A Tale of a Giant Losing a Tiny Customer
I have recently been contacted by WhatsApp lawyers and they asked me to shut down one of my apps called WhatsBlast (an app to send customized group messages). I tried to come up with different alternatives such as removing the “connection” with WhatsApp or even to put the app open source and remove it totally from the Apple Store and the Google Play Store. They did not accept any of my alternative solutions because the Terms & Conditions are soooooooo broad that they cover any case they don’t like 🤦♂️. I lost one battle, and because I never liked WhatsApp (I used it only because of social pressure), I decided to quit WhatsApp. If you want to keep in touch with me, please contact me through Telegram, Twitter, or Email.
What’s in the long story?
In this blog post I will explain and show:
- Why I don’t like the service and the apps provided by WhatsApp
- Why I think it’s unfair that they didn’t accept my proposed changes to comply with their Terms & Conditions
- Why we have to be careful with giant tech corporations
- What are the alternatives to these giants
- How to delete your account
WhatsApp services s*ck
As a developer, I spend a lot of time on my computer; therefore I mostly use all my instant messaging from my desktop. This is the main problem WhatsApp, their desktop app. It is very very bad 😞:
- It can only work if your phone is on and connected.
- If your phone has a bad connection or is killing the app by lack of memory, the desktop app will not be able to get or send messages.
- Also, each time I load the WhatsApp desktop app it takes me at least 20 seconds to load. So I better not be in a hurry.
WhatsApp also has other annoying problems:
- Sending files are limited in size
- When you send an image, it gets compressed
- You need to connect it to a cloud provider such as Google Drive to save your history
- WhatsApp belongs to Facebook, another tech giant (which leads to centralization of power)
- By default, it downloads all the pictures and videos you receive and it can be quickly spammy and space-consuming
- The search doesn’t let you find links
- WhatsApp is not developer friendly
Why was I even using it?
I started to use it when I started my job in IBM to be integrated into the team chat, and be socially accepted, be part of the group, and so on. Basically because of social pressure 😶.
Rest In Peace WhatsBlast
WhatsBlast was the app I build to send personalized group messages. To give a bit of background, it is a pretty tiny app: it has been installed by 22 000 people and uninstalled by 20 000 of them.
How did it work?
It worked the following way:
- Create a group, let’s call this group “Friends”, made of 42 of my phone contacts.
- Write your message using the tags for example “Hello <Firstname>, I would like to invite you to my bye-bye party on Saturday 12th. Are you joining ?”.
- Once the message is written you can see a preview with all the 42 messages filled with the first name of your contacts.
- Then you press send and the “magic” happens, WhatsBlast would open an URL like this:
$PHONEby the phone number of the first contact and
$MESSAGEby the message with the first name of the contact. By opening this URL, WhatsApp will open the chat page of the contact with the message prefilled (if the contact is using WhatsApp of course).
- The user has to press send (after eventually correcting the message) and press the back button.
- When pressing the back button the step 4 and 5 will be repeated with the 2nd contact of the group, and then repeated again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again (42 times because there were 42 contacts in the “Friends” group) 😅.
That’s not very magic, right?
Because this app was not very automated, I got a loooot of bad reviews on Google Play because users expect to have full bulk messaging to send messages in one click to a lot of users. They were expecting this “magic” and got disappointed.
Therefore spamming was pretty hard. You would get tired very fast if you would like to send 1000 messages or even worst 1000 messages every day it would kill you, it wasn’t made for that because it required A LOT OF MANUAL EFFORT from the USER! This was nothing like automated messaging or bulk messaging.
Then why did WhatsApp lawyers ask me to remove it?
Because of confidentiality statement in their email, I am not sure I can copy-paste their email, therefore I will quote some parts of their Legal Info that they asked me to comply with.
Basically by using WhatsApp I have to comply with their Terms of Service that forbids the following:
- “violate, misappropriate, or infringe the rights of WhatsApp”
- “involve sending illegal or impermissible communications, such as bulk messaging, auto-messaging, auto-dialing, and the like;”
- “non-personal use of our Services unless otherwise authorized by us”
- “create derivative works”
- “interfere with or disrupt the safety, security, or performance of our Services”
- “collect the information of or about our users in any impermissible or unauthorized manner”
Also, they asked me to remove my app from the app stores and social media, to not violate WhatsApp Terms of Service again, and not to use WHATS or WHATSAPP on my app name, and not to design a similar logo.
From all these statements there was one of them I agree I was violating: “Create derivative works” my branding was green and also my name was pretty similar to theirs, WhatsBlast.
That’s why when I answered them all my proposals were including to delete the current app and recreating a new one with another name.
Among the proposal two of them were in my opinion not violating the terms and condition at all (this is exactly what I sent them):
- To create a new app with whatever name, let’s say “FastBlast”
- This app will have the same flow as the current WhatsBlast BUT
- The app will not be linked to WhatsApp
- The user will have to fill an input with any messenger “deeplink” (for example for WhatsApp it’s this one “https://wa.me/” and for viber something like this “viber://add?number=”)
- Deep links will not be provided, it is up to the user to find the right one and to add it
- The word WhatsApp will be removed from description
- To put the source code open (without providing any APK, or IPA) on GitHub
- To remove the WhatsApp deeplink from the source code
For your information: a deeplink is a URL that instead of opening a webpage, opens a mobile application.
The lawyers disagreed, for them it still violates the terms and conditions because they use a magic word, that I call wildcard. 🤯
The power of the wildcard in the legal world
In software, a wildcard character is a kind of placeholder represented by a single character, such as an asterisk (
*), which can be interpreted as a number of literal characters or an empty string. It is often used in file searches so the full name need not be typed
Here is the wildcard I saw in their terms and conditions:
Legal And Acceptable Use. You must access and use our Services only for legal, authorized, and acceptable purposes. You will not use (or assist others in using) our Services in ways that: […] (e) involve sending illegal or impermissible communications, such as bulk messaging, auto-messaging, auto-dialing, and the like;
– Whatsapp Legal Info — https://www.whatsapp.com/legal/#terms-of-service
Basically my app was not doing any of these: “involve sending illegal or impermissible communications, such as bulk messaging, auto-messaging, auto-dialing,” but was falling into the “and the like”.
“and the like;” — There is the wildcard!
I had a call with the lawyer and my brother who is used to work with lawyers, and we asked “What is the exact definition of bulk messaging” they said there is no strict definition of it 😡 and my app falls into the “and the like”.
Basically ANYTHING can fall into this category!
Here is a piece of code I just wrote. For non-coders: it is just comments, basically. Just read it!cid:frame-1A4226AC1294336C77395EF512448E5F@mhtml.blink
Technically this can go against WhatsApp Terms & Conditions because I (while writing this article) am a user of WhatsApp, therefore, I have to comply with their Terms & Conditions. So I cannot assist others to send illegal bulk messaging and the like. Depending on your interpretation, showing this piece of code could be considered as illegal, in my opinion, it’s not.
So where is the limit? Is there a way to know it without spending a ton of money in a lawyer? In this world money is king, and I don’t have enough to fight against a giant.
Rest in peace my dear WhatsBlast ⚰️
So yes, I ended up giving up 😢, and I removed the app from the stores as they asked me to do. I ended up complying to their merciless rules. I am a real respectful citizen of the world now… but at what cost 😐?
The app is just dead now, and the source sadly private.
R.I.P. WhatsBlast, I really enjoyed building you.
You can still check out its tomb:WhatsBlast Bulk MessagingSend customized messages in 4 steps: 1. Write your message 2. Select your contacts 3. Preview 4. Send each message…whatsblast.learn.uno
Any legal alternative?
I don’t know any legal alternative, maybe I can try to build something in the decentralized web, but would it be legal? I don’t know. If you are a legal expert and know any legal alternative, to share my code, or to revive WhatsBlast feel free to comment.
I will just not take any risk doing something illegal, don’t forget: I am a respectful citizen of the world after all.
Beware of the giants (GAFAM)
You probably heard of the acronym GAFAM: Google Apple Facebook Amazon Microsoft (in case you forgot WhatsApp and Instagram belong to Facebook), they are the ones I call the giants or the new gods. When people say “God bless America” they probably talk about them…Who knows.
I am not the best to talk about these giants because I use a lot of their services, I rely a lot on Google (Google Search, Gmail, Agenda, Google Maps, Google Analytics, Android with Google Services, Youtube, …) and Microsoft (Windows, Github, LinkedIn) and I can hardly manage without them because they do provide a good service.
The only thing I know now is that if I have to open a new account in some service or download new software, I will try to look for: Open Source, End to End Encryption, and Decentralized solutions.
Giving too much power to these giants by giving access to your data and just using them can lead to two major problems:
- Censorship 🚫 —They can just decide what you need to see and what you don’t, it created the filter bubble that lead to Trump’s election and the Brexit, or it can go against progress and decentralization like Google did, or even worst forbid the access to open source code to Iranian’s users (open-source belongs to everyone, it should be a human right)!!
- Privacy 🔒— As Edward Snowden and Pavel Durov (founder of Telegram) state, WhatsApp is supposed to be end-to-end encrypted app but it is very likely to have backdoors, and foresure governments are pushing to add them. Also, a lot of other services people use and I do too, are not encrypted which leads to privacy issues and can lead to governments to read any of your information.
These two problems are often linked to government pressure. For example, thanks to the CLOUD Act, the government can get anything from the US companies. As you can see in the below article, non-US companies are also getting pressured!What Was TON And Why It Is OverFor the last 2,5 years some of our best engineers have been working on a next-generation blockchain platform called TON…telegra.ph
And here is an inspiring quote from Pavel Durov (CEO of Telegram).
I want to conclude this post by wishing luck to all those striving for decentralization, balance and equality in the world. You are fighting the right battle. This battle may well be the most important battle of our generation. We hope that you succeed where we have failed.
– Pavel Durov
We are not doomed! 😌
Don’t worry we are not doomed. There are still some ways to escape that.
There are still other options, and more and more people conscious about those problems, here are some alternatives:
- Using a privacy-focused service
- Using open source
- Using a decentralized and anonymous (or pseudonymous) technology
Here are a few links (and tools) to continue this way:
- Privacy-friendly alternatives to Google that don’t track you — https://nomoregoogle.com/
- Tech that won’t spy on you — https://secured.fyi/
- Secure Email Based in Switzerland — https://protonmail.com/
- The decentralized internet — https://blockstack.org/
- Self-hosted tools — https://github.com/awesome-selfhosted/awesome-selfhosted
- Decentralized web tools — https://github.com/gdamdam/awesome-decentralized-web
Yes I am doing it, I am closing my WhatsApp account
How to delete a WhatsApp account 📱🙅♂️
Here is my home-made tutorial!cid:frame-FBB2593D1D4659903A14C6F839829B0B@mhtml.blink
Should you delete your account too?
Do whatever you feel like. I had my own reasons to close my account if you have yours just do it.
Will I survive?
I will 😅.
How to get used to it?
In 2019 I built this service to create a fake app to replace a real one: Detoxify.
I am still on Facebook for business purpose mainly, I guess the next step will be to get rid of it.
This article isn’t written by http://www.icastemedia.com, this article isn’t meant to promote or aim at defaming any of the above organization as mentioned in this article. However its the writer’s personal thought about the aforementioned Organization judging from his personal relationship with them. Therefore anyone who has/will come across this article has the liberty to do whatsoever and however he/she views this article is entirely a personal decision.
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