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.

WhatsApp – is it secure?

Last week I needed to share my Bank Account number with my son so he could transfer some money to my account.  As I was sharing, my wife cautiously asked me if it was ok to do that.  All the recent headlines about Facebook and data leaks were fresh in her mind.  That made me do some research about WhatsApp’s security and at the end it made me feel quite confident about sharing the details (account number, not my account password).

WhatsApp is used extensively in India and many other countries, although not as much in the US. And simple knowledge of what is safe and what’s not would help everyone using WhatsApp.

If you have ever started a new conversation on WhatsApp with someone, you must have seen a message:

I am sure nobody clicks on the message to know more, but if you did, you would get another message:

The key here is ‘encryption’ – the message (chat or calls) are encrypted with your credentials as well as receivers’.  So no other individual can see the content of the message, even if they somehow get hold of it.  Only you and the receiver can read the message (decrypt it).   A simple analogy for ‘encryption’ is a ‘lock’, so the message is locked, and only you and the receiver have the ‘key’ (decryption ability) for the message.

The same is true for a message you post in a Group.  Only people who are part of that group can read it.

So the bottom line is, the message is safe as long as you trust the receiver not to share it with others or to misuse it.

And the best part is, even WhatsApp (ironically owned by Facebook) – a company that is providing the infrastructure to get your message and deliver to the recipient – can’t see the message or decrypt it.  This is the part that’s most important for me.  This means that WhatsApp will not provide APIs (programmatic access) to 3rd parties to get to the message, neither will WhatsApp run any analytics on my posts/sends/calls to eventually use it for any company benefit.  Facebook has access to all of your posts along with all of your actions in Facebook.  Doing analytics, providing relevant advertisements & access to this data to advertisers was the main issue in the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica saga (see my earlier post).   But the encryption prevents WhatsApp from getting at the content of any of your postings

So the bottom line is:

  • Its fine to share information on WhatsApp, without fear of any 3rd party or WhatsApp (as a company) being able to get to it or read it.
  • You have to use common sense while sharing. Like me sharing my account number with my Son, making sure I don’t share my online login ID/Password or my ATM Pin.  That’s never safe no matter how you share.
  • Also know that the receiver can misuse it or share your message with others.  But it’s between you and the receiver.
  • And don’t forget, if someone gets hold of your mobile or receiver’s mobile and can open WhatsApp, they are opening it with your (or their) identity. So of course, they can read the messages. In this case, they are not a 3rd party.

As long as you keep all of the above in mind, you will have peace of mind and proper sharing on WhatsApp.

You can read more about WhatsApp security by clicking here.

My efforts from these posts is to simplify technology, explain it in simple terms so that when the time comes, you will not ask questions similar to what’s being asked in the accompanying video.