Features I would love to see in Whatsapp!

Like everyone in India, I am a heavy user of Whatsapp. In fact, I use a lot of collaboaration platforms, such as IBM Notes / IBM Verse (for office email), Yahoo Mail, Facebook & Twitter to name a few. In all of these collaboration platforms, I end up receiving fairly large amount of content. Whatsapp is probably more notorious when it comes to receiving forwards from people, which include posts with lots of text and long videos. Since some of these are worth reading, or watching, I end up spending a lot of time reading through more than screenful of the text, as well as downloading the videos and browsing through them. Often, after downloading the video and playing it a bit, I realize that I am not interested in it. So my efforts are lost. Also for reading large articles, I need to ensure that I am doing only the reading and not multi-tasking (like reading while driving). I beieve having some of these features outlined below incorporated in Whatsapp and other collaboration products would go a long way in freeing up the user from reading endless text, and would help save lots of time.

  • Read the post for me: Allow me to select a received post, and click a button to have the phone start reading the text. So I can put on my headphones and listen to it.
  • Summary transcript of the video: Show me a small summary or transcript of the Video, even before the video is downloaded. This would help me figure out if I should download that large video or not. Just a small mock-up below:
  • Summary transcript or a snippet for audio: Allow me to see a summary or a transcript or a hear a small snippet of an audio received.
  • I also find myself in situations where either because I am out for a few days or some Whatsapp group get super busy, only to find a group (or groups) with large number of unread messages. Curiosity makes me go through most of the messages, atleast scan them. In majority situations, most of the messages could have been simply ignored. Would be great if there was a feature which summarized the unread messages in , and grouped them providing the summary. And if there was anything for me, to highlight it. Similar feature already exists in another product I work with – IBM Watson Workspace. , and a feature like “Moments“.

So Whatsapp, Facebook & other social collaboration applications, what are you waiting for? Let’s implement these in the next update so we can be more efficient with our time.  And if you have ideas about more that you would like to see, please add a response to this post with your thoughts.

Fake News!

For anyone using Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Fake News is a major issue.  In India, forwarding messages, photos is very common.  Its very rare for someone using WhatsApp in India to not receive atleast 1000 (the actual number might even be more than this) forwards in various groups they are part of.   So it’s very easy for a message (fake or real) to get circulated to thousands of groups in a very short time.  Recently there have been instances of wrong information getting circulated in India on WhatsApp resulting in lynching innocent individuals.  You can read some of it here -> https://news.sky.com/story/arrests-made-after-mob-lynch-man-targeted-by-fake-news-on-whatsapp-11437660

The responsibility of preventing and recognizing fake news lies as much with the social media platform as with the individual receiving/reading it, and then forwarding it. Every one reading or watching any news must make their own judgement, and try to review if the news is genuine or not. After receiving a news or a video or a photo on WhatsApp or Facebook, which looks to be a news story, one of the 1st things I do, is to immediately go to the browser and try to search for the news on the internet. In most of the instances, I end up getting a hit telling me that this is a fake news and same was circulated few months/years back as well.  Every individual using these platforms has a responsibility to verify the information before forwarding any message.

At the same time, there are lots of newer technologies which can help the platform like WhatsApp to try and filter fake news.  I have read recently that WhatsApp is working on a feature to inform the user that a post is forwarded rather than an original message by the sender.  Today in WhatsApp, almost 90% of posts are forwards (I am excluding posts like Good Morning, Happy Birthday, Thumbs up from this statistic).  Simply knowing that it’s a forward still would not tell the receiver if it’s a genuine or fake.  Especially in India where forwards are common, Whatsapp just announced that they will limit forward to only 5 groups.  Would this stop the menace?  I doubt.  It will reduce, but will not end.

With the advances in Machine Learning, a lot can be done by these platforms.  My thoughts on what these platforms can do:

  • Anything forwarded should go through a filtering process of auto-searching on Google, other major news sites. Unfortunately, I wrote in my earlier blog post (https://techmusingstoday.com/whatsapp-is-it-secure/), the contents are encrypted and WhatsApp does not have access to the content.  So it cannot read and filter messages. I am sure there are different ways this can be achieved, one of them being to detect/filter in the app, or provide an option to the user to verify the authenticity with a button in the app.
  • WhatsApp or any platform can detect if the message was created or was forwarded. Creators identity can be stored in the messages so receiver can always trace back the identity of the creator of the message.
  • Fake or Photoshop’ed images is another nuisance. There are lot of ways to detect Photoshop’ed Images.  One of the article is here.  So any image (unless it’s coming directly from the camera) being posted should go through a rigorous test by the social media platform, and provide a mechanism to the user to check it’s authenticity.

But ultimately, we, the users need to be more vigilant.  Look carefully before forwarding.  So it’s all the users & the social media platform need to come together and fight this menace of fake news.

Facebook Saga!

Facebook Saga! – That’s the hot topic for the last few days. Facebook is in the news for all the wrong reasons.  This post is more about discussing the key points of the drama that’s going on over it.

A brief history for anyone who is living in a cave and has not heard of the latest controversy going on with Facebook.  You can read more detailed information here.

To review this briefly, Facebook collects information about everything you do when accessing Facebook (either via the app or via the web browser) – each click, likes, comments, posts, location from where it was accessed, and so on.  Facebook then does a lot of analysis on this entire data to show you relevant advertisements, content, and in return makes a lot of money from these advertisers.  The better the analysis and targeting, the more it can charge.  The more accurate information it can get out of your activity, leads to better analytics.  Unfortunately, someone (Cambridge Analytica) found a way to fraudulently access almost 50 millions Facebook users’ data and manipulated it for vested interests.

I would say there are multiple things here and we need to look at each one individually.

1

Facebook collects users data – clicks, likes, locations, posts, & more

2

Facebook analyzes this to promote targeted ads

3

Access to this data was shared/ compromised.

I will be referring to these points as ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’ below, rather than spelling out each one again and again.

I have seen a large number of posts where people are complaining about point ‘1’, and also about point ‘2’ (collection & analysis of data).  But this applies to almost all the apps that are being used and not limited to only Facebook.

  • Google Maps – In the beginning we used Google Maps only to find direction to go to an unknown location. Now, we use it to find the best route, or traffic data.  I use it every morning as I get into my Car for the office, to know which route out of a possible 3 routes I should take.  And I check it again mid-way to ensure nothing has changed.  Google Maps keeps track of my trips, and it has a feature called ‘timeline‘ which shows me where I drove on any particular day in the past.  So Maps knows exactly where I have been, when (date & time), which route I took and where I started and what my destination was.
  • I do a lot of running, and keep my ‘Endomondo‘ app to track the run. So this app has all the history of all the places I have run, the route and the time of the day.  And this history goes back a few years.
  • Even the browser you use to visit various web-sites does the same. It shows you quick links to the sites you have visited.  So it’s keeping track of where you have been (which sites).  It knows your location, what time you went to a site, how much time you spent on it and I am sure it’s collecting lot more
  • Of course, we all know that information on your purchases online is tracked and relevant ads start showing up on all the web-pages.

As you will see by all the above examples, ‘1’ and ‘2’ (collection & analysis) is done by every app that you use on your smartphone.  It’s done by every web-site you use.  It’s done by your phone service provider (so they can give you better offer when you roam, as an example).  And I do want the apps to do that to help me.  If Endomondo simply tracked my run, and deleted the data after each run, I would stop using it.  I use the app because of how it helps me improve my running.  I like it that the app lets me compare my current run from previous runs, find out the elevation, the terrain, the weather difference, pace for each kilometer etc, and all of this helps me in finding what I may have done right or wrong in that run, helping me improve my overall performance.  This is a huge benefit for me, for which I do not mind having the app collect & analyze my data.

I find it naive when people ask the question “Would you delete your Facebook account and stop using Facebook?”.  If you are worried about what is being collected & analyzed, then stop using your smartphone, since every app on it does it for it’s own use.  Oh, and by the way, your cable provider also keeps track of which channel you use and for how long.  So get rid of the cable.  So no TV.  Oh right, your car also has transmitters so the manufacturer can help you if you get stuck someplace.  So stop using the car.  And of course, your credit card company keeps track of your spends, what you are buying, when you are buying, where (location) you are buying.  So stop that as well.

So if you look at your life as it exists now, you pretty much need to go back 50 years if you want to avoid anything that keeps track of what you are doing.  And I bet even if you go live in a cottage in a jungle, you will find something will track your activities.

So my message is to “STOP” worrying about the app collecting the data, but “Always” check on what the app is collecting and what you are allowing the app to collect.  Make sure it’s collecting what you are comfortable with.  And also remember, the more data you give, the better your experience will be using the application.  What you want to worry about is, what you are doing/sharing, how much data you are sharing and can you be intelligent about it, and last but not the least about point ‘3’ (is the app letting someone else access this data).  You want to ensure that the app which is storing all of this data, is not misusing it and also not sharing the data with others, nor it has a way for others to steal this data.

So it boils down to “Security” and “Privacy“.  Is the App following these 2 principles?  Again Privacy does not mean no collection of the data.  Privacy means keeping the data to itself.  If an app never collects any data, you will not have all these advancements & benefits.  Take away all the suggestions of friends, all the forwards you get from Facebook then what you are left with a platform where you post data but get no feedback.  That is not what anyone needs and wants.  What you want is an App you can trust to provide right information, but also keep all of your data secure.  Facebook faltered in that aspect and is paying dearly for it.  But I think this is a major eye-opener for all the apps and also to the public, and I am sure Facebook will ensure security going forward.  In fact, this will ensure all the major apps we all use (Twitter, Google Maps) will re-visit and ensure Security and Privacy.  But do I believe this will not happen again, I don’t.  In the current times where people do not care for what they share, to whom they share, there’s every possibility that this story may be repeated.

As IoT (Internet of Things) and sensors find their way into each and every item & gadget that we use, the need for Security & Privacy will increase manifold.  We just need to be sensible, responsible and vigilant.