Managing your Messaging Apps

As messaging apps increasingly take over from email, use them wisely.
Sometimes irritating, often useful, messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram have essentially become digital extensions of who we are. We share secrets, opinions, intimate details, jokes, videos, voice notes, pictures, documents and many other items daily via these apps. Just like in the real world, you need to be careful about what and how you share on messaging apps.

One particularly interesting aspect of the terrible war in the Ukraine is how people there have flocked to the seemingly secure messaging app Telegram for instant communication. Unlike WhatsApp, Telegram supports large groups, which makes it ideal for organising around a specific theme, topic, event or indeed, safety measures during a war. Read more here: How Telegram Became the Digital Battlefield in the Russia-Ukraine War.

This excerpt from the TIME story above says it all:
“Before the Russian military invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Nataliia Nezhynska had never used Telegram. Now she can’t go a day without the messaging app. It feeds her an endless stream of updates from her native city of Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, to her home in Lorton, Virginia [in the USA].”

The ubiquity of messaging apps is thus an absolute given in a connected, digitally oriented society. But are they safe?

According to Basie van Solms, Research Professor: Academy for Computer Science and Software Engineering at UJ, “Nothing can ever be safe in cyberspace”. He believes this applies for messaging apps as much as anything else online. “I’m cynical about cyberspace. Every programme [or app] can be hacked. The whole concept of creating a cyber safe environment is a bit of pie in the sky. I’m straightforward about that.”

This sobering attitude is perhaps exactly the right way of looking at messaging apps (and everything else online) today because it’s probably the way things simply are right now, specifically regarding our digital selves.

Professor Van Solms also believes taking back personal online data with the help of 4IR Tech such as blockchain systems can assist us in future to control what is available about ourselves online. However, he cautions that much more research is needed to make this work. His department is actively researching how technologies such as blockchain (that drives much of the crypto-currency world) can be used to secure personal digital data effectively.
“This is not going to happen in our lifetime,” he warns though. “Our data is already out there and we are not going to get it back. Once we have these advanced technologies, we will create a new generation of people with control of their digital data online.”

So, where does this leave us when it comes to messaging apps? His advice to people who are worried about WhatsApp’s terms and
conditions and what it means for the use of their data by Meta Platforms, WhatsApp’s parent company for instance, is to simply accept it and move on. “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with a little bit of extra information [you are giving Meta Platforms]. Do it. It’s out there anyway.”

Naturally this approach relates to accepting the terms and conditions of messaging apps, which does not mean simply throwing caution to the wind and making your own personal data such as login details available. Continue to be extremely careful with what you share via any digital platform. Use it responsibly, always, just as in the real world. But, continue to use the 4IR Tech of today to your benefit, especially when it comes to essential communication utilities such as messaging apps.

For more on the topic of using messaging apps, watch this UJ Cloudebate™ titled Creating Tomorrow: The “Message App Privacy” Episode

Watch the “Message App Privacy” Episode