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article imageOp-Ed: With Facebook policies in mind, mobile messaging privacy matters

By Michael Krebs     Feb 23, 2014 in Business
The mobile messaging market made headlines this week after Facebook agreed to acquire WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion - however, there may be considerable privacy and security issues at stake.
The social media marketing sector has been experiencing a flurry of significant developments, particularly in the mobile messaging arena - as was seen this week under the broader shadow of Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp (discussed here in my weekly podcast).
Mobile messaging cannot be discussed without addressing SnapChat, and the service has held my attention after I had seen social media marketing celebrity Gary Vaynerchuk discuss the viability of using SnapChat as a content marketing tool. Vaynerchuk was specifically addressing how to use SnapChat to drive audiences to events - as he sees the appeal in the service's ability to hold the users immediate attention.
But there are considerable security issues with SnapChat, and the company's co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel does not appear poised to tackle the security concerns any time soon.
SnapChat handles roughly 400 million messages per day, delivering a considerable footprint. In January 2014, 4.6 million phone numbers and usernames were stolen from SnapChat's servers. And in early February, it was reported that hackers coming in through SnapChat could disable iPhones. This past week, a hacker operating out of Georgia Tech broke into the service in less than 30 minutes.
SnapChat's security issues have opened the door for a new rival. Wickr, a security-focused mobile messaging app, believes that "encryption is a human right," to quote Wickr's CEO Nico Sell.
Wickr uses military-grade encryption and is considered the SnapChat for grown-ups. Unlike Facebook, Wickr believes your content is your content - and Sell has called for an open boycott of Facebook, protesting Facebook's practice of sharing user data publicly.
While Wickr, like SnapChat, does not disclose it subscriber figures, it reported a notable uptick in users in the immediate aftermath of Facebook's WhatsApp acquisition. Wickr believes that WhatsApp users may be concerned with Facebook's lack of privacy controls.
SnapChat may wind up to be the big loser in these shifts. Facebook's WhatsApp acquisition means that its $3B offer to buy SnapChat is likely off the table, and in the current environment - where data breach concerns are pushing to the front of the average consumer's mind (think Target and Snowden) - Wickr may very well hold the greater appeal.
This brings us back to the Facebook acquisition.
WhatsApp claims an active user base of 450 million worldwide and a growth rate of 1 million new users per day.
While Facebook already has a mobile messaging product in Facebook Messenger, its only market lead is within the United States, according to On Device Research. WhatsApp dominates in the key emerging markets: Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia.
"WhatsApp is on a path to connect 1 billion people," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, according to a Motley Fool report. "The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable."
Beyond international and emerging markets, WhatsApp represents a foothold with the youth demographic. The youth market is not coming to Facebook, and the acquisition gives Facebook another touchpoint with this audience - in the mobile environments that they prefer.
But it may be the data that is of greatest interest to Facebook - and here is where the privacy concerns could benefit Wickr further.
“There are several key benefits that Facebook will see from the WhatsApp acquisition: additional demographic appeal, global expansion, and deeper data connections," Marc Landsberg, founder and CEO of SocialDeviant told ADOTAS. "As the younger generations move away from Facebook that has become popular with their parents and even grandparents, they are moving to apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp to communicate privately with their friends. This acquisition will allow Facebook the diversity in their portfolio to ensure they will have a touch point with this younger audience in the future. Facebook is currently blocked in China; however, WhatsApp is allowed for download there. This will open the door for Facebook to open the conversation for countries, like China, where they are currently blocked. This acquisition could likely be part of a much larger tiered approach for future global expansion. And finally, mobile acquisitions for Facebook continue to offer opportunities for deeper data connections. Facebook already has significant data on its user base, but users are currently identified by email addresses only. WhatsApp connects information directly to a person’s phone numbers, which is essentially becoming an ID number in today’s digital age. By connecting the social groups and contacts from WhatsApp with the data already available through Facebook, they will be able to have a deeper understanding that will allow for more effective networking and advertising recommendations.”
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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