WhatsApp in the University

privacy
ethics
#1

Many university instructors today create WhatsApp groups for each class to keep in touch about learning and pragmatic issues. The benefits are clear but I’m curious about the risks. Can anyone recommend articles / discussions around the ethical, legal, pedagogical problems that we might be over looking when we use these tools? Thank you.

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#2

Yes, that is a good question.

Whatsapp itself is end-to-end encrypted, but I can imagine that Facebook can still collect a lot of metadata about what is happening in such groups, like when you copy links and the link preview is fetched. They know who is part of which group, and how active each member is participating.

Welcome to the community, Josh!

#3

I am unaware of the pedagogical problems WhatsApp can cause, but a serious problem brought by WhatsApp’s encryption is the spread of fake news and political propaganda, and it’s particularly raising a lot of concern in India (as I read in the news).
Since surveillance is not that easy in WhatsApp compared to other social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook, fake news can be quickly circulated among WhatsApp groups. Tracing the origin of fake news is very difficult, and this problem has even led to the deaths of innocent lives.
In the Indian election, candidates can use WhatsApp as a powerful tool to gain more influence and popularity by engaging with voters (see the BBC news). Some government has demanded Facebook to abolish the encryption in order to find the culprit but Facebook refused to do so claiming to “protect its users’ privacy”.
As for educational usage of WhatsApp, many study groups use WhatsApp as their main communication channel here in Singapore. It’s an interesting issue that I never thought about before. Hope someone can give their opinion on this:).

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#4

One thing that has happens to me using WhatsApp, is that unknown numbers will send pictures of news events or chain messages that get quickly circulated exactly the way you are saying.

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#5

There is also the addictive nature of WhatsApp–the way it can quickly overwhelm good sense and judgement.

Senders can also trigger roller-coaster reactions in recipients and manipulate them in unhealthy ways.

#6

Yes, the conundrum… any communication platform is going to have its pros and cons and it’s not an easy “X , so Y” answer… here’s my thoughts and personal opinions:

No-network effect:
You move to a super-secure communication medium , which doesn’t even show to the server the metadata of who spoke to whom. Great for you, but now you don’t have people there to communicate with. Nobody in your contacts are going to join there since “rest of my friends and contacts in app X, why don’t you join App X too?”

Spam:
Siddhi’s point about unknown number mesaaging a user … it’s also possible with the old email too? And there in email, it’s worse phishing mail links can do nasty stuff in browser where you might have your bank website open in another tab…

Availability:
A communication medium needs to have sufficient uptime to be able to receive messages. Or sender side need to have some sort “exponential backoff” algorithm implemented to resend the message until delivery. A popular communication medium guarantees better uptime. If you try hosting your own mail server at home, simple scenario of a small mammal like rabbit chewing off your internet cable or power supply outage can cause trouble in receiving… and the effort needed to secure it, defend it from real time attacks, safeguard from spam… :confused:

Security:
WhatsApp uses signal’s security methods the signal protocol. They even worked with signal team to implement it. So the server doesn’t and cannot know the content of your texts (incl. group chats), voice and video calls. An alternative like telegram has by-default plain text chat without security. Security has to be default.

Server:
This is related to previous point. Who owns the server or server infrastructure? WhatsApp is owned by Facebook. Signal is not owner by a big tech but their servers are hosted in Amazon cloud (if someone can correct me if this statement is a mistake?).

And so many more points if you think about it. We need to look at the comparative analysis and decide what we want to use. One good comparatively analysis in table format is here but note the out of date warning… https://www.eff.org/node/82654