In the mobile first world, free mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE, Hike, Kakao Talk, Viber, etc. are already the next big thing for social media. In a way these apps are a big threat for the dominant social media networks and even the Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg agrees to it.
WhatsApp, the messaging app that recently revealed it has more than 300 million users, is an undisputed leader in the messaging apps market and the feat comes without any marketing budget. However, the app has a stiff competition from Asian messaging apps like WeChat from China, LINE from Japan, etc. Asian messaging apps not only have shown a handsome growth but at the same time have found interesting ways of making money from stickers, social games, in app purchases, etc.
As a service today most of the apps are free apart from WhatsApp which is charging users $0.99 after using it free for a year and providing an engaging experience. One of the reasons why these apps are quite popular among today’s youth.
Can the messaging apps be hacked?
Even though I am not a person hooked on to these apps, I had certain apprehensions while I was installing some of the apps on my smart phone. These apps that authenticate with your mobile number take your entire mobile under their control. From having access to your contacts, your location details, accessing your SD card, Google Play billing services, etc. these apps take good control. Now what happens if tomorrow we wake up to see that Syrian Electronic Army is trending on Twitter since it has been able to hack one of the popular messaging apps?
Very much as we witnessed the same happening with popular messaging app Tango that was recently hacked – and hacker group Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) claimed to have accessed “millions” of users’ personal details, downloading 1.5 terabytes of information including private phone numbers, contact lists and emails. The app was used by more than 100 million people.
A similar attempt was made in the same week on another popular messaging app Viber. However, not too much damage was done as the “army” only managed to get to the support page and then promptly defaced it. Viber updated that all sensitive information is secured in a way that it cannot be accessed with the kind of attack on the system.
According to TNN, the country’s capital Delhi witnessed hackers from the country coming together over the last weekend and one of the point of discussions was about the vulnerability of free messaging apps. It was also reported that to prove the point, a team of young hackers demonstrated on how text messages sent through a Chinese free texting app can be decrypted. The group also added that foreign governments could also be using this method to access data for surveillance or spying.
Threat to governments and regulation on charts
Messaging apps is another tech for the governments to worry. Earlier in the month of June, Saudi Arabia’s telecom regulator banned the use of the web-based communication application Viber, which is hard for the state to monitor and deprives licensed telecom companies of revenue from international calls and texts.
Vietnam, the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula, isn’t a country that enables freedom of speech and recently revealed that it is planning to decide a policy so that the free internet-based telecom tools like Viber, Line and Whatsapp could be controlled.
The reason for having new rules is that the free calling and messaging services are doing harm to the existing mobile operators in the country by eating up their revenues. Elaborating more on the business repercussions the network provides, representative of Viettel Telecom, one of the country’s biggest phone network providers, told the state media that:
[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”left_pull”]We will lose 40-50 percent of our revenue if all of our 40 million customers use Viber instead of traditional call and text.[/pullquote]
The news comes two weeks after the government had decided to clamp down social media in the country. In the first week of August, 2013 the government announced a new decree stipulating that blogs and social media profiles belonging to individuals and businesses should contain personal information only. The regulation that will come into existence by September has already been criticized by the US.
Indian government showed slightly similar concerns for Chinese messaging app WeChat though it was related to individual privacy. Post Guardian’s breakthrough in the US snooping program Prism, Indian government was informed that US collected 6.3 billion data from India in March 2013 through its National Security Agency (NSA)’s Prism program by tapping into the servers of companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, for information including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.
While the news was being criticized and debated, Indian Intelligence Bureau raised security concerns against Chinese mobile messaging app – WeChat. However, there has been no update after the company spokesperson Hu Chunnan stated that,
[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”left_pull”]The messaging platform WeChat, as a product that Tencent provides to its overseas users, has always complied with all relevant local laws and regulations.[/pullquote]
WhatsApp has also been a case of worry for the Securities and Exchange Board of India. The board had found out that WhatsApp was being increasingly used to spread sensitive market related information to influence certain stocks. The regulator has been seriously looking to tackle the problem.
Blackberry wasn’t spared too and had to face similar problems in India when the government was not able to monitor the BBM conversations and internet service email. The Indian government had been putting pressure on the Canadian company following the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement in 2011 with Blackberry giving up eventually. Today the company has set up a local server in the country which the government can monitor at its will.
It would be interesting to observe how the messaging apps of the world overcome the present set of challenges, while they spread stories of their hockey stick growth and growing revenues with every quarter.