Governments and commercial companies are using chat apps to get access to your data and metadata. As a result there’s a strong call for private and decentralized messaging applications. This new evolution of messaging apps started a few years ago. The internet used to provide digital freedom, but that’s no longer the case. Your digital footprint provides valuable data for commercial companies, while the government is keeping an eye on your. Even though end-to-end encryption is now becoming common ground, it’s still not enough. Your metadata is just as valuable, and now the call for blockchain technology and decentralization is growing stronger.
Early days of messaging applications
When the internet became a public domain in the early nineties, chat was very limited. People could use Internet Relay Chat (IRC) for live chat as we know it today, and they could use the Newsgroups and leave messages on a message board. As the internet matured, the world wide web came into existence and chats became popular on community oriented websites. It didn’t take long before companies made their own standalone chat applications for desktop computers. ICQ, Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger were among the most popular apps in the business. With the increase of internet speeds and rise of cable internet in the 2000s, it became possible to video chat. Google Talk, nowadays known as Google Hangouts, and Skype are still active today. On top of that the rise of the smartphone moved internet usage from our desktop to the palm of our hand.
In 2009 WhatsApp launched for on iOS and later on other operating systems. Four years later the messaging app had 200 million active users per month and it was valuated 1.5 billion dollars. As a result Facebook bought Whatsapp one year later, and in 2016 they introduced voice calls and video calls. Around the same time in China there’s was an app called Weixin. It hit the market in 2011. After being on the market for chat one year, the app became WeChat. It’s now one of the leading platforms on the Chinese market. The app is a combination of chat and social media platforms like Instagram. Currently 40% of all mobile payments in China’s cashless society go through the app’s payment service WeChat Pay.
Privacy is the big elephant in the room
Thankfully consumers are becoming more aware of privacy issues involving social media. Talk about a certain topic with a couple of friends, and Facebook/ Instagram will show you a related advertisement in the coming hours. That’s where we are now. However, billions of people enjoy using WhatsApp , WeChat and many other chat applications.
Thankfully privacy has become a major talking point in society. Banks, software companies, other commercial enterprises, are all vulnerable to hackers. The result is that creditcard information or other private data comes into the wrong hands. Identity theft is therefore a real problem. Another issue is that these chat applications use your time and chat history as marketing data. Whatsapp might be end-to-end encrypted, but Facebook knows exactly how long and with whom you’ve been talking. They know your social media history and connect the dots. Unsurprisingly, also Apple’s iMessage collects metadata. In addition it might be cool to use WeChat’s payment options, but we can’t say it’s really private.
Governments can always use the law to get access to user data and chat history. That’s why centralized servers are in theory such a big threat to privacy. End-to-end encryption already prevents outsiders to get access to char history, and several privacy oriented apps allow messages to be deleted over time. Currently messaging apps like Telegram and Signal are among the most popular privacy-focused chat apps on the market, but even these apps can ultimately be used to track its users.
Decentralized messaging applications
Twenty years ago chat applications were a novelty. The internet was still innocent and relatively free from commercial greed and government observation. At the same time the internet was not yet at the center of our society. Quite frankly, it is now. To escape the world wide web of greed and observation, we need to create a new network that can exist without these Orwellian influences. Decentralization is key.
Blockchain technology will have a key role in creating the future of decentralized messaging applications. Using blockchain technology will add another layer of privacy to chat applications. Users get more responsibility over their own data as they hold the private key to it. The technology also means there’s no single point of failure. Even if a hacker or thief gets access to a phone, it won’t hurt the entire ecosystem. The complete decentralisation n means that users have only access to the data they have been granted access to by peers or themselves.