This past week, we continued to search for the best communications app for those working in places where locals aren’t like-minded. One user wrote, “I don’t have good answers, either — I have lots of co-workers that use WhatsApp, and I reluctantly participate in one WhatsApp group, because I need to, even if I’m deeply suspicious of the privacy issues. (Click “Read More” for LOTS more from this very informed I.T. Brigada participant.)
“An aside — remember that there’s a difference between security and privacy. WhatsApp is a good example, where the technical security of end-to-end encryption is pretty good, but where the big questions are privacy, of who has access to the data and metadata, and what they may do with that access. In the missions community, among non-technical users, it’s easy to confuse the two.
“Even though WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, it’s my understanding that Facebook hasn’t managed to integrate WhatsApp into Facebook’s overall infrastructure. To me, that indicates that the value of WhatsApp to FaceBook may be more on what they can extract in metadata (especially from the APIs) than the content itself.
“When I get started interacting about metadata, something that frequently comes to mind is a piece published at Business 2.0 called “Six Degrees of Mohamed Atta” in December of 2011. This one is analysis of the 9/11 conspiracy, that does a pretty effective job of using network analysis to identify the roles of everybody involved (especially the planning), based on publicly-available logs of communication. I believe that this analysis draws only on metadata — who was in touch with each other, including frequency, and times and lengths of connection, and not the connections themselves.
“The main article is around the net in PDF format in numerous places, including http://faculty.cbpp.uaa.alaska.edu/afgjp/PADM610/Six%20Degrees%20of%20Mohamed%20Atta.pdf. The gist of the article is as much about what can be done with network analysis as the specifics of 9/11, but where it’s using 9/11 as a poignant example. Further useful commentary at https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/941/863.
Something that’s especially interesting is that the Business 2.0 article ran in December of 2011, not years later. It’s a good example of just what can be done with metadata.
“Thinking a bit further, I’ve just done a recent re-read of God’s Smuggler, with a new epilogue that was published in about 2001. In that, Brother Andrew explains that after the fall of Communism, he was able to get access to the files that entities like the KGB and the East German Stasi had on him, and noting just how much detail was there, not just about him personally, but his activities, places he visited, and pretty much all of his contacts. He also notes that a former KGB officer told him that in the KGB, God’s Smuggler was required reading. (BTW, I found that as a missionary, there’s a lot of good lessons to review in God’s Smuggler — I highly recommend it, including a careful reading of the epilogue in the newest edition).
“It’s useful to note that he was able to do what he did, not because of his own cleverness, but because it was guided by the sovereignty of God, of “making seeing eyes blind”, and being obedient to His callings. For years, I’ve also noted that with Corrie Ten Boom, after she was released from prison in 1945, she found that she could not do the Underground activities that she had done before she went to prison, because God was no longer leading her in that direction.
“The upshot of all of this is, for those of us that work in restricted access countries, while it’s important to be as careful as we can on security and privacy issues, we are also entirely reliant on the protection that only God can provide. If God is leading, then we can do some pretty extreme things. But those are often only one time, or for a short season, and when we start reducing things down to formula (and human effort), it’s easy to get into trouble.
“It’s important to remember that even though there may be something of a romantic adventure aspect to being “secret agents”, it’s all deadly serious, and for us as missionaries, we’re rank amateurs, often playing against the very best professionals. Thus, for all our methodologies, we need to assume that we’re not fooling anybody, and what keeps us going is God’s provision.” (Thanks so much to this Brigada participant, who gave permission for us to share his exchange, but preferred not to have his name listed publicly.)
So what does this mean? There are no easy answers. Just remember — WhatsApp is up for grabs, now that it has been purchased by Facebook. We’ve heard great things about Signal, but honestly, it was a bit complex and convoluted for our taste — plus, the Brigada participant who originally asked this question was looking for a messaging app that would also allow for a live call (like Whatsapp). I guess that would knock Wickr Pro out too? We’ve also heard great stuff about Threema, but, again, users on both ends need to be legitimate Threema users. Hoccer is also a good choice, but offers no direct “telephone-like” interface. Have you all hear of others?