I never wanted this. Whatsapp and its parent company are some of the things I most hate about what tech has become, showing the utter lack of ethics in a industry that has too much impact on the rest of the planet. Just go and read all the reports about groups abusing these platforms (and them allowing them to) to change politics all over the world, or all the shitty security a lot of IoT stuff has, and how they're used to attack services on the Internet.

But reality is more complex than that. In my home country, Facebook and Whatsapp specifically are very popular, to the point that, due to our lack of net-neutrality laws, phone companies offer cheap contracts where those two application's data usage do not count as such, becoming completely free. This means people almost stopped using the phone or SMSs, but instead send text, pictures and voice messages via these platforms. That includes my whole family, which also almost stopped using email.

So for the moment I left my principles aside and installed the app. My last attempt at this had failed because you can't install it on a tablet; the device has to have phone capabilities. Even more, when you try to register it, it forces you to use a cellular phone number; Signal at least has the decency to let you register it to a land line too (if it can't send you an SMS, it gives you the option of being called and the registering code is spelled to you). Luckily I had a spare number from a throwaway line I bought in my last trip to homeland, so I used that number instead of the real one. I know it's a useless step, it's equivalent to giving the finger to someone's back.

Once installed, I tried to send a message to my wife. The app denies you to do so if you don't give it in exchange access to your contacts. Again luckily for me, this phone was mostly empty, but I still took steps to avoid giving it all my contacts. The few I had were already sync'ed to my owncloud instance back home.

First, I exported all my contacts locally and deleted them all. I reimported them after I got the app running. Then I created a new, empty owncloud account, so when Whatsapp asked me which 'account' to use to get/sync the contacts, I gave it that one. This way, when you add contacs, they go to this 'honeypot' and it doesn't have access to your real Contacts. If you don't have a owncloud or similar service you control, you can simply create a bogus Google account and use that instead. The only downside is that you will get dupe'd contacts, but once you sent them a message, you can safely delete the contact and even completely disable sync'ing the account. You can also revoque the permission to access Contacts, but that means you're back to square one, except for the conversations you already have started.

I'm sorry can't give you the exact steps I did, I was on the bus, and with all the failing attempts I lost track. Of course, removing all the contacts means that you only see phone numbers and their photos, but after a while you can recognize them by that. Right now I only have my wife and my family's group, and I hope I can keep it like that for a long, long time.

One last thing: Whatsapp asks you for your contacts, but you can't nicely ask them back: the phone numbers of new contacts are very difficult to extract. You either export them to the Contacts Account if you still have around (I didn't) or you copy them by hand (which I did). Last but not least, I still have the nagging sensation that Whatsapp would have been able to read the contacts; I really whish that Android would gives us more fine grained firewall capabilities. Also, remember that Whatsapp has no option to store media in an SD card, only the phone's internal storage (WTF, people, seriously!), and it's a pain in the ass to clean up the stuff you don't want. So for the moment I haven't gave it access to Photos, Media and Files.


misc rant