How ad platforms learn your real social graph

by Volker Weber

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Facebook has two messengers. Messenger works with your Facebook login and your "friends", WhatsApp with your phone number and your address book. The interesting information is not the directory but the traffic between those people. Whatsapp is so pervasive because you don't need to build your directory. It's already in your address book.


Google, the older ad platform, has had many messengers, but eventually Hangouts persevered. It works with your Google ID. And Google failed to convince you to build your circles in Google+. For Gmail users, they have a directory, but not everybody in there als has a Gmail account. That is why they are creating the chat app Allo and the video app Duo, which should actually be one app (and may be eventually). Allo and Duo work just like WhatsApp. Your phone number is your ID.


Whether you are using Facebook or Google, the choice is yours. Both are ad platforms.

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iPhone/iPad users have a good alternative with iMessage and Facetime. Apple is not an ad platform but a traditional business which takes money from users and does not sell them to others.


The Apple apps are a good alternative only when all your friends live in the Apple world, too. WhatsApp has become so wildly popular because it supported every relevant mobile platform right from the start.

Thomas Cloer, 2016-08-26

Absolutely. And since nobody wants to pay for messaging, those outside of the Apple world need to pay with being ad subjects.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

Nicly said, Volker! So true. It's puzzling to me (but that's just me) how few people value privacy and security. Keep all these good posts/articles coming, I find them really enlightening!

Markus Dierker, 2016-08-26

The biggest joke is that Google convinced Android users that they are the "free" ones.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

What about BBM?
Anyone there?:-)

Horia STANESCU , 2016-08-26

Thanks Volker. To the point. Nobody does is better.

Stephan Perthes, 2016-08-26

Horia, not any longer.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

Don't get a thing: why Facebook is wasting resources keeping/developing 2 messenger apps?

Horia Stanescu, 2016-08-26

Horia, world domination. It's not a waste. Whatsapp has like 45 employees.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

'WhatsApp has become so wildly popular because it supported every relevant mobile platform right from the start.' But only phones, right? It's never supported tablets to any degree. And that's always been the issue for me - any viable messaging platform has to support all mobile (and desktop) devices - it needs to be truly ubiquitous.

Now if only Apple had actually followed through on that promise to open up iMessage...

Stuart McIntyre, 2016-08-26

Apple never promised to open up iMessage. That was wishful thinking.

And yes, you can use WhatsApp on your PC or tablet. It goes through your phone though. It's a matter of architecture: when you do "phone number is your ID", you use that device. If you don't like that use the other one. Messenger for WhatsApp, and Hangouts for Allo/Duo.

Apple has a different approach: multiple IDs per user. You can reach them via Apple IDs or phone numbers, at the same time.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

Is Telegram worth considering as an alternative?

Kieren Johnson, 2016-08-26

What is their business model?

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

@Kieren. I would not.

Ian Bradbury, 2016-08-26

@Kieren - sorry my clip board seems to be one paste behind.

Ian Bradbury, 2016-08-26

Volker, re your first comment: also those inside the Apple world, if they want/need to communicate with the outside. And that seems to be the problem to me. There is hardly any choice, if you do not want to lock yourself out.

And what are viable alternatives to Facebook/Google?
Are Line, WeChat any better? As you point out yourself, what are the business models of other messengers such as Telegram, Signal, Wickr,...?

Is there _any_ cross-platform messenger/chat application, which I could pay for with something else than me becoming an ad subject? Euro, for example?

Martin Engel, 2016-08-26

Martin, your goal is to reach more people than you can reach on iMessage (which includes SMS). I don't think there is any platform that can compete with that.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

Signal is Open Source.
Their business model is to sell their e2e encryption technology to others, eg. Whatsapp.
Unfortunately, the app is probably not widespread amongst your friends or community.

Thomas Odorfer, 2016-08-26

That is the problem, Thomas. It does not really matter what the individual user decides. If everybody uses a certain platform, you need to follow. I have Signal installed, for those people who want hardcore security, but I very rarely get any messages there. iMessage is different. I can reach most contacts there. Not all of them, but the vast majority.

So this is what I am keeping: iMessage, WhatsApp, Signal. In that order.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

@Martin: It is the platform/protocol which you are choosing - the app itself is a side effect (XMPP wanted to alter that equation but didn't take off for a variety of reasons). See Metcalfe's Law

David Richardson, 2016-08-26

It's insanity that we have so many competing platforms doing exactly the same thing. Eventually this friction will cause everything to collapse into a single platform, and unfortunately Facebook is the odds-on favorite to win that crown. You go where your contacts are -- that's the least common denominator here.

Arthur Fontaine, 2016-08-26

A couple of years ago that would have been AOL or Yahoo. I don't see Facebook as unsinkable.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

Wasn't this post about messenger business models and then everything got fuzzy because it is Friday night and the beers are too many?:).
Just wondering reading "what should I use comments" ...

Horia STANESCU , 2016-08-26

Go home. You're drunk.

Volker Weber, 2016-08-26

@vowe I don't see Facebook as unsinkable either but I don't see anything today that will beat it. What's interesting is that Facebook won by basically copying everyone before them, but that will no longer be sufficient. What replaces Facebook isn't here yet.

Arthur Fontaine, 2016-08-27

Threema no possibilty?

Wolfram votteler, 2016-08-30

Not for me. iMessage comes with the product and includes SMS. WhatsApp is used by everyone and their grandmother. Signal is for those paranoid contacts. Three is enough. Don't need a fourth-ma. :-)

Volker Weber, 2016-08-30

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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