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I deleted WhatsApp – this is one year later

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Nowadays, it may seem like you can't escape WhatsApps grip. You would have to live as a digital hermit if you wanted to renounce the app. I did it anyways and deleted my account. In the process, some amazing things came to light.

Table of Contents

  1. Why I deleted WhatsApp at that time
  2. Reactions
  3. How to back up WhatsApp chats
  4. Deletion
  5. Conclusion
  6. What I would do differently looking back

As if by a twist of fate, my old journal fell into my hands yesterday. That's always exciting: What was I like a year ago? So directly flipped open the 18.01.2021 and there it was:

A diary is held up next to a cup of coffee. There is candles and gems in the background. The journal entry explains how whatsapp was deleted.
The journal page in question (It's in German though. Tranlsation below.)
  • Grateful for having deleted WhatsApp yesterday.
  • Searched for solution for WhatsApp backup. Took forever. Found very cumbersome way, in the end. -> Blog post?

Well, it never came to the blog post, but let's take up the idea again a year later.

Why I deleted WhatsApp at that time

I had been playing with the idea of deleting WhatsApp for a long time at that point: Too many unnecessary groups, petty chats, and a general discomfort with being dependent on Facebook's whim for one of my main communication methods. But the benefits always outweighed the fears and the FOMO kept me from really doing anything. That was until the beginning of 2021, when Facebook published fresh terms and conditions that I felt interfered too deeply with my privacy. If I remember correctly, the entry into force of the T&Cs was postponed a few more times and softened somewhat, but since it no longer affected me after that, I lost track of whether it was really implemented that way. It was just clear to me: at some point, it's coming anyway.

But I remember that at that time my acquaintances were also looking for alternative messengers - somehow it was scary for many of them. But only a few of them switched completely. Most now use different messengers in parallel. My reasons for completely breaking with WhatsApp are probably best described by my goodbye message, which I sent to all (important) contacts:


The goodbye message


(Roughly translated from German)

Hey! Since I will delete my WhatsApp account next Sunday (17.01.2021), I would like to use this "broadcast" to list how to reach me alternatively.

  1. secure messenger (Threema, Wire, Signal (& Telegram)).
  2. the good old phone call
  3. privately by eMail to XXXXXXX (For encrypted communication you can find my PGP-Public-Key here: XXXXXXX)
  4. business by eMail to XXXXXXX

FAQ:
Q: Why do you delete WhatsApp?!!1!eleven!?!
A: For several reasons. Firstly, WhatsApp has adopted a T&C change that connects the metadata of every WhatsApp account and associated conversations with the associated Facebook and Instagram data from 08/02 (https://www.whatsapp.com/legal/updates/privacy-policy-eea/?lang=de). I feel this is a very questionable intrusion into my privacy and do not want to/cannot agree to it. This leaves me with no choice but to stop using WhatsApp. Oskar Vitlif already put the other reasons very nicely into words in his article last year: https://link.medium.com/G3X2ydGu2cb

Q: Is the situation really that bad that you have to delete WhatsApp right away?
A: Yes. From now on, not only your (semi-)public activities on FB & Insta will be linked to you, but also your private communication. Affected readers may be concerned with this article and possibly feel a certain discomfort: https://link.medium.com/i4AsAJZu2cb . Especially the last few paragraphs make it clear what Facebook can and is allowed to do according to the new terms and conditions.

Q: Are you now an tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist?
A: No. And whoever says otherwise will be pushed off the edge of the earth.

Q: But you're also on Instagram & Facebook! Isn't that pretty hypocritical?
A: Yes, it is. However, I now use a dedicated device to access FB & Insta, which is not connected to any private service.

Q: Couldn't you then also take the device to run WhatsApp on it?
A: No. It's not about WhatsApp as a service, it's about linking private entertainment data to my social media profiles.

Q: Should I also delete WhatsApp?
A: You have to decide that for yourself. The advantages of WhatsApp are obvious and it is absolutely understandable not to want to miss them. Provided you only use it privately and prefer the privacy benefits, it's a legitimate decision to stay with WhatsApp. However, if you communicate with customers or otherwise do business via WhatsApp, I can only strongly advise you to look for other communication channels. In the end, you give Facebook a very deep, permanent and free insight into your private and business life, which in case of doubt will be used against you and your interests.

So much for me and my plans to turn my back on WhatsApp. I hope I was able to make this decision understandable and I look forward to continue communicating with you on other platforms 😊

Kind regards
Conrad

P.S.: should you have received this message and are still waiting for my answer regarding something else, then ashes be spread over my head! I will get back to you by Sunday at the latest 🙌🏼

P.P.S: sorry for my only English speaking people. In short: I'll delete my WhatsApp due to the new terms of service. You can reach me via the channels listed at the top of the message 👍

Reactions

I had actually expected that my farewell message would be taken note of by most without comment. But the vast majority of people wrote to me that they liked my move and that they had now gotten Telegram. From there, not much changes, after all. However, there were three reactions that made me grin and/or shake my head:


Reaction 1: The "specialist".


The person in question was obviously much more informed than I was: It would be completely stupid to switch to other services, because with Signal you don't even know who is behind it, where the server locations are and who would be reading along. At Facebook, or WhatsApp, they knew that and it was also a large, trustworthy company and therefore they could not understand my step at all and were honestly angry that I would now force another, consequently much more insecure communication method on them.

I then saved myself the trouble of explaining how the Signal protocol and end-to-end encryption, or PGP, work and what it means when software is open source....


Reaction 2: The offended liverwurst


This person saw it as a personal attack to soon no longer be able to write to me on WhatsApp: They thought it was a great pity that I had decided to take this step, and they didn't see the point of getting a new messenger just for me. It was far too confusing and if I wanted to distance myself from the person in this way, then I would have to see how I could reach them. They had always appreciated our conversations on WhatsApp, but to just make yourself so unreachable is outrageous.

I had written to this person exactly five times in the last 3 years and found the reaction a bit over the top. In response, I wrote an SMS: I'm sure we'd find a way to communicate in an emergency. After all, a text message with a thumbs-up came back.


Reaction 3: The distrustful glass one


You could almost say that this person is the hypothetical classic of any privacy debate. To this day, I am amazed that there are actually people who think and act like this. In response to my message, I was told that they didn't understand why I was so upset and why I would take such drastic steps. Whoever really wanted to have my data, could get it without WhatsApp and if it were so important, one would have to get out of the Internet completely and live in a hut in the forest. But you wouldn't have to worry if you had nothing to hide. Now, of course, the question was what I had to hide, since I wanted to get off so badly.

I did not answer this message. Quite incoherently, I want to leave this quote from Edward Snowden here:

"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."

How to make a backup of WhatsApp chats

In retrospect, the most exhausting part of quitting: the backup. Because even though I didn't want to use WhatsApp from then on, I had grown very fond of the conversations I had had so far. And who knows, maybe I will need them again in the future... When it comes to backups, I live by the motto: better have than need & no backup, no pity. But if you now think it's easy to download the conversations including attached media and voice messages somewhere, I now have to bitterly disappoint you:

Most backup options provided for a backup encrypted by WhatsApp itself to be stored in some hidden folders in the iCloud drive, which could then only be opened again later with WhatsApp. This was obviously not my goal, because WhatsApp was supposed to disappear - forever. With the help of some tutorials, I was able to locate the directory in the iCloud drive and download the backup file, but the file was encrypted and the key was nowhere to be found. Only the app could have decrypted the backup again. So an alternative was needed.

Since screenshots were no good for saving voicemails, I dove deep into the app's penultimate menus and found what I was looking for: chats can be exported in their entirety, including their voicemails, gifs, images, videos and files. However - and therein lies the problem - each chat must be exported individually. I then spent a good 8h exporting every single chat that I had assigned some meaning to.

To do this, go into the individual chat and press on the profile information of the chat partner. There you will also find the settings for that chat. At the very bottom is a button called "Export Chat". Depending on the size of the conversation, as well as the media and number of voicemails saved, it can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 8 minutes for the entire conversation to be made available for saving in a .zip. From here, the file can be sent directly to a computer via Airdrop - at least on the iPhone - which then backs it up to a backup disk.

A very tedious process overall, but worth it to be able to keep all those memories. Interesting side note: The conversation is stored in a .txt document and voice messages and media are just referenced with an ID. In the folder of the chat, all the voicemails & media can be found with their corresponding ID. So you don't have a nice conversation view in the future, but have to puzzle the pieces together yourself. But still better than no backup at all.


Deletion

Since I was not only interested in deleting the app, but deleting my whole account, it was not done with just uninstalling. Instead, there is an option in WhatsApp's settings to delete the account. The process is very simple (just press Okay a few times), but creepy, as it is often repeated that after deleting everything is irretrievably gone. I found it nice, however, that it was explained exactly what data is still kept after deleting the account and for how long, and what is automatically deleted and when.

After the app only indicated that my phone number was not yet on WhatsApp and that I should create a new account, I knew it was done. The app was kicked off mobile, and I was free.


Conclusion

I haven't missed WhatsApp for a day since deleting it. I didn't expect that, and it surprised me in a positive way. In fact, many of my contacts have gradually moved to other messengers as well, so I've been able to continue most conversations seamlessly. Even though I would have done a few little things differently in retrospect, most of my fears didn't come to pass:


Groups


One of my biggest fears was not being able to keep up with what was going on in the various groups from now on. To be honest, at the time of deletion, I only really cared about 3 or 4 groups, but in these (to this day) meetings are communicated and actions are planned. These included study or work related ones as well as friend groups. My fear of losing touch was really big in the beginning.

As it turned out, real life is not as linked to WhatsApp as you might think: In every important group, someone was automatically found who would get me on board when meetings were coming up or there was a need for planning. Some groups have also moved completely to other messengers, for which I am grateful to this day.

Now, you could say that it was luck that I continue to be involved. But it is questionable if you really want to be a part of groups that forget you just because you are not digitally involved.

Otherwise, it's actually much more relaxed without all the groups: Even if I sometimes liked to listen to the latest gossip and drama, time-consuming group voicemails, disputes and discussions pass me by now. Honestly, I don't miss it. How often did it happen that I used to open WhatsApp after 2 hours of focused work, only to be slain by 200+ new messages about some petty dispute in a group? That's a thing of the past - which has had a noticeably positive effect on my mood.

I've also found that the really important things find their way to me in other ways: Most of the time, there is a need to talk privately about serious issues, and when I am told about them, I can look at the whole thing with a bit of distance instead of being drawn into the argument in the group.

In short: Without groups, life is more carefree, and you still don't lose touch - or at least only where it wasn't so essential anyway.


Customers


Actually, I was never a fan of communicating with clients via WhatsApp or Messenger in general: Since I didn't have a dedicated work cell phone back then, it always felt like a deep intrusion into my private life when customers contacted me this way. That, too, is now a thing of the past. Gone are the days when a message would reach me at 23:14 with urgent changes until tomorrow morning and I would sacrifice my sleep for things that could have waited for 12 hours.

Twice it happened that customers were very angry about not being able to contact me in the most direct way and at any time of the day or night. But they could not explain to me why this should really be necessary. Today, I can be reached by email during my business hours and by phone by appointment. I can't put into words how much quality of work and life this measure has brought back for me. It's really nice to wake up and no longer have to worry about being sent out for the day with "extremely urgent" customer requests.


Old chats / need the backup again.


I overestimated how often I would look at the old chats. I originally assumed that I would definitely need to peak into the files every now and then for a few more months. 2 days after the deletion was the last time I looked something up. A month later, the entire backup was moved to an external hard drive and was deleted off my computer. I haven't needed it since. Unexpected, but pleasant.

What I would do differently looking back.

There are a few things that, looking back now, I would handle differently if I had to do it over again:


1. I should have been more limited in my choice of alternative messengers


In my goodbye message, I told people that they could reach me via Threema, Wire, Signal and Telegram from now on. I uninstalled Wire after just a few weeks because no one was here, but iMessage has established itself as an alternative with many of my Apple user friends (not ideal, but better than nothing). I now have conversations with various people via all of these messengers. This becomes - I almost sound like the person from reaction 2 - very confusing and annoying in the long run.

However, Telegram is particularly annoying: It can hardly be surpassed in terms of features, but very few "normal" users really care whether a chat is encrypted or not. This is problematic because Telegram's conversations are not encrypted by default. Even WhatsApp was better in this respect. Only when you awkwardly open a "private chat" in the menu, the end-to-end encryption is enabled on Telegram. And then suddenly 2 chats exist, of which most people always take the unencrypted one, because this is where the conversation was started. Not to mention that the encrypted chats cannot be continued on secondary devices.

At the time of WhatsApp deletion, it was clear to me that Telegram has security issues, but not to this intensity. I was already using Telegram for some conversations at the time, but they were all people who cared about their privacy and paid attention to encryption. Now I write with many people who don't care. I wish I had excluded Telegram from the beginning. Because now I'm faced with the dilemma of going through the whole deletion process again.


2. I would announce it earlier and differently.


I sent the goodbye message around a week before the deletion to give everyone some time. Today, I would probably do this a good 3 weeks before, force communication with customers via eMail in the meantime, and start announcing in status and profile picture that this account will soon be gone.

The reason for this is that even into October 2021, some people still tried to write to me on WhatsApp and then called me furiously about why I had blocked them. I had simply forgotten to send them my goodbye message. I probably could have gotten them on board with the above measures.

Even customers still occasionally referred to things they had once sent me on WhatsApp well into the summer. It was never a problem for them to email it back to me, but it was still an avoidable extra step for both parties.


3. I would switch much, much sooner.



It may seem these days that you can't get around WhatsApp and have to live as a digital hermit if you want to renounce it. Before I took the plunge last year, I spent a few years debating whether I should really do it. Now I can say that the gain in freedom and quality of life was well worth it. I just wish I had realized that much sooner.

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