New iOS Privacy Labels Reveal Top Differences in Data Collection Between Messaging Apps

The new iOS 14 privacy labels required of Apple app publishers reveal some important differences between competitors. There is a particular disparity in messaging apps, best illustrated by setting up Signal (which collects no data) alongside Facebook Messenger (which collects around 65 different categories of data).

Messaging apps vary greatly in the amount of personal data collection

While you would expect a privacy-focused app like Signal to have substantially less data than something provided by Facebook, the format of “nutrition labels” makes the difference striking and very effectively articulates the scope of data that some. applications are sucking. . Even Facebook’s own WhatsApp collects considerably less data than Facebook Messenger, with only 16 categories of data accessed and none of those involved with third-party advertising (based on privacy labels).

Signal is the baseline for user privacy, with no data categories listed at all; its “nutrition label” is a blank slate. Apple’s own iMessage is relatively restricted and accesses four types of data: email address, phone number, search history, and unique device ID. Facebook Messenger seems to be capturing almost everything that goes through the device: purchases, financial information, precise location, browsing history, user content (such as photos and videos), and much more.

While WhatsApp isn’t as voracious as Facebook Messenger, the amount of data it collects will likely be daunting given that the company originally built its name on a commitment to user privacy. The application does not scan or track the user’s messages, but it generously helps the user’s metadata: “approximate” location (a general area instead of specific coordinates), user’s contacts, usage data, and payment information, among others. categories that iMessenger does not access. WhatsApp appears to be increasing its collection of this type of data as part of Facebook’s overall strategy to integrate and share data between all of its various services; Users were recently sent an updated privacy notice requiring them to opt out of further data sharing or to stop using the service before February 8.

Telegram, which was criticized by some commenters for alleged use of it by Capitol rioters to coordinate activities, also scored well in terms of privacy compared to Facebook’s offerings. The privacy labels for the encryption-focused app show that it only accesses contact information, device ID, and contacts.

Privacy labels could play an important role in preparing the battle between messaging apps

WhatsApp has previously rejected iOS privacy labels, claiming that the data categories are too general and could mislead users into believing that more personally identifiable data is being recorded than actually occurs. It had also noted that users would have to proactively look for the privacy labels of pre-installed Apple apps rather than having them presented to them when downloading them. Even if one does lend potential legitimacy to those concerns, the side-by-side comparison of labels is not well reflected on WhatsApp and the business may be better served if users do not search for them.

Facebook also took out two full-page ads denouncing Apple’s new privacy labels in late 2020, claiming that small businesses would be disproportionately harmed by anything that limits personalized advertising. Some industry watchers have been highly skeptical that Facebook is acting as a champion for small businesses, believing that instead it wanted to draw attention from exactly the kind of negative press that the new privacy labels could create for its apps. courier.

Maps of the most used messaging apps in each country illustrate that Facebook has a virtual monopoly on messaging apps in most of the world, with Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp generally ranked # 1 and # 2 and well above any other alternative in terms of monthly count of active users. There are many other messaging apps that have similar features and functionality, but are struggling to gain traction outside of a few specific countries. The privacy-focused Signal app, which was created by the team that designed the encryption systems for WhatApp and Facebook Messenger, garnered a substantial surge of interest when recommended by Elon Musk (and retweeted by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey) and may be emerging as a viable contender. After Musk recommended that Facebook products be scrapped by Signal, the previously unknown app skyrocketed to # 1 on Apple’s App Store. Telegram’s messaging service also saw a surge of millions of new users after WhatsApp released its new privacy policy.

Signal is the baseline for user privacy, with no data categories listed at all; its ‘nutrition label’ is a blank slate. #respectdata

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Revenue structures can often tell the end user what to expect from popular messaging apps in terms of respect for user data. Signal may operate while collecting minimal user information due to its non-profit status and its reliance on donations to run a simple operation. Telegram also relies on donations, but is largely supported by Russian billionaire Pavel Durov (founder of the popular regional social media platform VKontakte).


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