Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, sat down for an interview with the Big Technology Podcast to discuss Facebook v Apple, iMessage, and how WhatsApp became popular. The interview also covers a variety of other topics including the issues the company faces in India, and content moderation.
You don’t see a label for iMessage when you download it because you don’t download it, it’s on your phone to begin with -Will Cathcart, WhatsApp Head
As expected, the discussion started with the new App Store privacy labels that Apple enforced on developers, including Facebook and WhatsApp. iMessage is the biggest competitor for WhatsApp and it ships pre-installed on iPhones. Will Cathcart acknowledged that iMessage locks in users to iPhone, especially in the U.S.:
I assume it’s in Apple’s interest to have everyone using an iPhone, I mean, obviously, it is. And you look at a place like the U.S., most people have an iPhone, and the messaging experience works better on iMessage if everyone else has an iPhone.
Users cannot uninstall iMessage, or download it from the App Store, which means that they never get to see its privacy labels to understand what data it collects. Cathcart highlighted this when asked about whether he sees Apple’s privacy labels as a direct attack against Facebook.
Regardless of whatever the purpose of the labels was, we compete with iMessage from Apple, we compete in the U.S. — where way more people use iMessage than use WhatsApp — we compete in a bunch of places around the world. You don’t see a label for iMessage when you download it because you don’t download it, it’s on your phone to begin with. And so, we were critical of that.
WhatsApp had voiced this issue before and Apple responded by saying that it will put iMessage’s privacy labels on its website, which is not really a fair solution.
They said they’d put it on their website. It’s on their website if you can find it. But even there… Not to use this metaphor, but what’s apples to apples? We have payment information because we have an optional feature for you to use payments in India, if you want to. Apple has payment features and you can send a friend money through iMessage. Our label says we have payment information, iMessage’s doesn’t, what’s the difference? Why does ours say and theirs doesn’t?
The irony is that while WhatsApp can take the high road and point out issues with Apple’s privacy labels, its recent privacy changes were met with a major backlash from customers, forcing it to delay its rollout, and clarify its stance. It clearly demonstrated what people think of the Facebook-owned messaging company when it comes to their data and privacy. Infact, Telegram gained 25 million new subscribers in just 72 hours, because of WhatsApp’s privacy changes announcement.
Interestingly, Cathcart also went into the history of how WhatsApp gained popularity and how iPhones were a huge part of it. He brought up the iPhone lock-in to iMessage again but was hopeful that it can convert more users in the U.S. to WhatsApp over time.
Check out the full interview at OneZero to read about the discussion regarding the issues what WhatsApp is facing in India with regarding to encryption, its competition with Telegram, and content moderation.