Week 179 – About the Whatsapp/Facebook deal

Johannes talks about podcasting as a tool for thinking before putting on his tech analyst hat and looking at some details of the Facebook-Whatsapp deal.

Writing is my favorite way of processing all the input I get throughout my days. But it’s also an exhaustive process, that costs me a lot of mental energy and hence a regular victim of heavy procrastinating. I’ve been looking for other ways to reflect topics and rediscovered podcasting.

It’s not podcasting, it’s thinking out loud.

I had been experimenting with podcasting a couple of years ago, but never got into the habit of producing on regularly. Then Christian Grasse asked me and Florian Schumacher if we wanted to do a podcast about the Quantified Self and now we’re seven episodes in (all in German). It turned out exactly as I hoped. We’re having a conversation about topics and news connected with self-tracking, wearables, and everything else that is somehow cyborg-ish. The exchange helps me to develop new ideas, based on observations and thoughts voiced by Christian and Florian.

The same is true for my appearances on the neunetzcast, where Marcel keeps inviting me back. Again, I do this for selfish reasons. Marcel is much closer to the pulse of tech news and one of the best tech analysts in Germany. Just to see what links he puts into the collaborative document we use to prepare a show is a good indicator for me which news I should pay attention to. I also like to feed him my more absurd theories about the tech industry1 and see if they hold up.

An interesting detail about the Facebook-Whatsapp-deal

In the last episode of neunetzcast, we talked about the Facebook-Whatsapp-deal. What stuck with me since then, was our conversation about all those people switching to other messenger apps, after the deal was announced. I never used Whatsapp because of their track record of privacy flaws and I considered this to be public knowledge. I assumed that most people used the app anyway. The connivence of communicating easier with their friends trumped the security concerns. Then came the Facebook announcement, which seemed to tip the balance. It made the security concerns bigger than before. But why?

By now, it couldn’t be more obvious that we the users have a gigantic trust issue with the Facebook brand. We see the value that the platform provides. But we don’t trust Facebook one bit to take good care of our data and have our best interest at heart. Even so, we don’t leave Facebook because we feel the strong lock-in effect of FOMO2. Instead we are getting much more deliberate about what data we give Facebook. Or to put it more precisely, what data we allow Facebook to access.

The reverse-lock-in effect

So here’s the theory: We’re ok with giving Facebook some of our data. But we’re becoming much more careful about giving them all our data. “Sure, Facebook, you can know which events I attend. You can also tell my relatives about my new relationship or my aced school test. But the more you want from me, the more suspicious I will become and draw back.”

You could call it the reverse-lock-in effect. Because we feel so locked in and dependent on one platform, we seek out alternatives to avoid more lock-in at all costs. I think this is the (unconscious) reasoning behind people switching mobile messenger apps now.3
It’s not because they think that Facebook is less secure than Whatsapp or more evil. It’s because they don’t want to have their private and group conversation also belong to Facebook. That’s why they have been using Whatsapp instead of the Facebook Messenger. And that’s why they are switching to Threema or Telegram now. Which adds another interesting layer to the situation.

A lesson for developers of security tools

The Snowden leaks have changed a lot of people’s perception about the risks of data insecurity. But the threat has been too vague to create enough motivation to look for a more secure tool right away. But now that people want to switch anyway, a more secure messenger makes a lot of sense.

There’s an interesting lesson in here for developers of security products for the mainstream – of which we will see a lot in the coming months. Threema and Telegram have been around for a couple months and even longer but couldn’t get any traction. They were trying to make a rational argument about security. But it wasn’t in-line with how most people think about privacy issues with technology. Developers and especially marketers of security tools need to learn much more about motivations and user behaviors. They need to get a better feeling about the users gut reactions. They need to understand that a platform deal creates much more perceived pressure than abstract leaks in the news.

But there might also be a bigger issue here that could effect startup founders and the “stacks” who want to buy them. If this user behavior of trying to avoid giving too much data to one ecosystem will catch on, startups will have a tougher time selling to the Facebooks, Googles and Yahoos. The number of users they’ll lose with the deal might make them less attractive for the buyers. Well, unless the number of users plays a minor role and the deal ist mostly about making sure to have a stake in the futures. But Zuck’s pockets only go so deep…

Update: Marcel picked up my thoughts and took them further (in German).

  1. Like Microsoft taking on the vision of creating the operating system for the singularity, which, as it turns out, they already kinda did

  2. FOMO = Fear of missing out 

  3. Another point I make in the podcast: I don’t believe that Zuckerberg will do much with Whatsapp. He has hardly touched Instagram yet. It’s more about owning parts of possible futures than about integrating them into Facebook. His vision is bigger than his product. 

Author: Johannes

Johannes is a strategist and consultant for digital communications. His work is informed by his experience of working with brands like Deutsche Telekom, MTV, Postbank, Maggi and Nike and by his insatiable appetite for finding the bigger patterns behind current developments in technology and science. Holding a diploma in Media System Design, Johannes is a regular speaker at web and marketing conferences like Republica and the Social Media Summit.