Thursday 25 August 2016

WhatsApp's new Privacy Policy [fixed]

WhatsApp recently updated their privacy policy. To prevent users from getting skittish, they also wrote a blog post explaining how wonderful everything was. I found some mistakes in their blog post, though, so I thought I'd fix it up for them. The original post can be found here:

About those 17 billion dollars we paid for a chat app? Um, we kind of need to make that back again

Today, we’re updating WhatsApp’s terms and privacy policy for the first time in four years, as part of our plans to test ways for people to communicate with businesses making WhatsApp profitable by allowing businesses to contact you in the months ahead. The updated documents also reflect that we’ve joined Facebook and that we've recently rolled out many new features (we’d like you to focus on the new features, instead of the changes to our privacy policy), like end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp Calling, and messaging tools like WhatsApp for web and desktop. You can read the full documents here.

People use our app every day to keep in touch with the friends and loved ones who matter to them, and this isn't changing (Please go ahead and think about just how useful WhatsApp is to you for a moment. You don’t really have a choice but to agree to our new terms). But as we announced earlier this year, we want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too may be able to finally turn a profit for us, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam (depending on your definition of Spam). Whether it's hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight, or maybe seeing a text message or two that’s actually an advertisement to help us become profitable, many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls. We want to test these features in the next several months, but need to update our terms and privacy policy to do so (well, maybe “need” is a strong word, but the current ones are a bit inconvenient for us).

We're also updating these documents to make clear that we've rolled out end-to-end encryption (remember to focus on our new features please). When you and the people you message are using the latest version of WhatsApp, your messages are encrypted by default, which means you're the only people who can read them. Even as we coordinate more with Facebook in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else (History and common sense say that we’ve probably opened up a back door for NSA, but that’s for like terrorism and stuff, so don’t worry about it). We won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and we still won't sell, share, or give your phone number to advertisers (but we might let them contact you through WhatsApp. Even though they can use your number in the only way that matters, please focus on the fact that they don’t actually possess those 10 digits that you value so much).
But (remember, anything we say before the word “but” doesn’t really count) by coordinating more with Facebook, we'll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp (Please focus on the ‘fight spam’ part, and skip over the ‘tracking’ part. Also please don’t read this piece on how much can be inferred by looking only at metadata from the EFF: And by connecting your phone number with Facebook's systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads (which will help us make money) if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you've never heard of (not in a creepy way though. Don’t worry. This is all about profit). You can learn more, including how to control the use of your data, here.
Our belief in the value of profiting from private communications is unshakeable, and we remain committed to giving you the fastest, simplest, and most reliable experience on WhatsApp. As always, we look forward to your feedback and thank you for using WhatsApp.

Friday 19 August 2016

Do what other people are doing, but more meta

A common pattern among the computer science crowd is the desire to find a gap in the market. We've seen people like Mark Zuckerberg receive the same knowledge that we have, and turn that knowledge into money. Many people I know of have gone through approximately the same progression that I did in terms of becoming dissatisfied with academia for being too impractical (is anyone actually going to read that thesis?), followed by becoming dissatisfied with industry for being too uninspiring (yay, I fixed that unit test. Again). These people then start looking for gaps in the market -- waiting for that One Great Idea (tm) to come down from above and strike them between the eyes.

The first thing to realise is that ideas are worthless. As many people have noted, there is no market for ideas, and this is for good reason. They're not worth anything. You can patent an invention, but not a startup idea. Your idea might be good, but it's not going to make money on its own. Your product might be OK, but it's not going to make money unless it's polished and marketed. And as a single developer working on your weekends, you're unlikely to be able to build anything reliable that's also easy to use and which solves an actual problem. And then tell people about it.
Now that we have that out of the way, ideas are still important. And ideas are fun. I have notebooks full of ideas -- some of them I've shared with others for feedback. A select few are in the process of being transformed into code in private git repositories. I enjoy playing around with ideas, even if it's good to keep a healthy scepticism on how successful they'll become.
A good shortcut for finding more interesting ideas than those of other people is through the concept of 'meta'. A meta-thought is a thought about thoughts -- i.e. one of the things that we believe makes us better than the apes. Metadata is data that we keep about other data -- think of that "last modified" column in your file explorer. That's data. Your files are also data. So it's data which is describing data. Wow. Inception. Metaception. Mind == Blown.
But more seriously, as you listen to other people's ideas, try to see a layer behind their idea. Or if you are thinking of an idea, look for the idea behind that. Three quick examples will hopefully clarify this:
  • People are creating startups. Most of them fail. Some smart people avoid failure by creating startup incubators instead of startups. They buy some cheap warehouse space and offer internet, coffee, and 'mentorship' to other people who want to run a startup. Most of the startups themselves fail, but they still pay their fees to the incubator. And the few that are successful also give a percentage of their shares to the incubator. The incubator isn't hurt by the failures and makes a fortune out of the successes -- all through taking other people's ideas one layer of meta deeper.
  • People are playing on the stock market and buying crypto-currencies. Some of them make a lot of money and write about their successes to encourage others to try the same. Many others are losing all their money -- they tend to be a bit quieter and keep their heads down. No-one likes talking about them. The people in the game who are reliably making money are either the stock markets themselves (Wall Street is worth a bit), or the ones who are selling data, books, code, and tutorials to the people who want to gamble their money directly. Again, these people are making money on others' successes and not losing it on their failures.
  • In non-tech circles, people still make money by proofreading, though not very much. If you are part of the minority that has a good understanding of the grammar of your native language, it's easy enough to find clients who are a bit bewildered by exactly how commas and apostrophes work, and who have read the distinction between effect and affect several times and have given up trying to work out when to use which. However the hourly rate for proofreading tends to be pretty miserable. I once attended a three day proofreading course though, and paid the single instructor several thousand ZAR for the privilege. I was one of dozens of people to do so, and the instructor made more money in three days using his proofreading knowledge than many of the attendees would make in their lifetimes with the same knowledge.
Of course, once you start doing this, you might never stop. What about a startup incubator that trains other people to create startup incubators? Or someone who teaches people who to teach? Or someone who writes blog posts like this one? Be careful of the rabbit hole, Alice. People who go down do not always re-emerge.