Most of us over the age of 40 can identify with the acerbic and brazen Bunny known as Bugs — the animated cartoon character, created Warner Brothers and voiced by the immensely talented Mel Blanc. Bugs in some ways was a super hero with his starring roles in the Looney Tunes series produced in the 1940’s. He became an American cultural icon, with his trademarked phrase, Uhmm, what’s up Doc?”
Perhaps that phrase is what popularized the cultural slang used as a greeting in various forms, such as What’s up; sup; and the popular award winning Whassup? The latter being the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser beer commercial that first aired during Monday Night Football, December 20, 1999.
Like so many other cultural catch phrases, it soon ran its course and was thankfully put to sleep.
Perhaps leveraging the colloquial speech and evolution of the phrase, a new messaging app was born, i.e., WhatsApp. This app which is available across multiple device platforms provides instant messaging for smartphones and operates as a subscription business model. The app enables users to use the Internet to transmit their text communication. Additionally, WhatsApp is often used to send other media such as photos, video, and audio messages. A user’s location can also be shared through the use of its mapping features.
I was surprised when SnapChat was recently valued at a whopping $10 billion. However, WhatsApp, was purchased by Facebook for $19 billion in February of 2014 — and has now grown to 700 million monthly active users. That equates to an additional 200 million users since Facebook’s purchase of the app. According to their CEO Jan Koum, a former Yahoo employee, users are sending more than 30 billion messages per day.
My Kid Is Using WhatApp! Should I Be Concerned?
To quote the inimitable Bug Bunny, “Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.” But in reality, the adoption of apps is a natural part of today’s teen life. One simply needs to understand how the app is being used.
I’ve often compare new app use to teens going to the mall. Seldom do they simply go to a single store. Moreover, the store and clothing brands that were once popular in 2012 have given way to other brands — much like the transition from MySpace To Facebook to Instagram.
At one time teens with their allowance money burning a hole in their jeans — fled to places like American Eagles and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. Today, they are more likely to shop at off-brand stores — taking direction from their own sense of style rather than that created by Madison Avenue. Regardless, they may purchase jeans and hoodies from American Apparel; and sweaters from Old Navy. Of course this assumes they haven’t skipped the mall altogether and did their socializing and shopping using their smartphones at Go Jane.
For this reason, apps such as Whatsapp will continue to sprout in the Google Play and iTunes stores. Unlike Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers; teens are not brand loyal. They follow their instincts and at times follow the crowds where there are more people with similar interests and experiences.
But why have teens thrown out the texting service provided by their carrier you ask?
Although Meghan Trainor might shout, It’s All About The Base; when it comes to social media it’s about the data.
In the old days, i.e., 2012 teens were using the text plan that mom and dad bought from their carrier. Those text messages actually were delivered via the same infrastructure carrying cellular voice calls. As such, the teen or the parent were charged based on limited texting plans. It could get expensive. Additionally, mom and dad could see how many texts were sent; at what time and to whom. Not much privacy for Tommy and Sue.
Then came Blackberry’s BBM service. It was a clever, cross-carrier app that actually used the “Internet data” rather than the “voice data” to transfer messages. To that end, similar apps arrived such as SnapChat, Kik and of course Whatsapp — so those with unlimited data and limited text could message each other without worrying if they exceeded their allotment of text messages for the month.
You might recall in 2009 the California man whose 13-year-old daughter racked up an astonishing 14,528 text messages in one month. The online AT&T statement ran 440 pages and at 20 cents per message would have nearly cost $3000. Although most texting disasters weren’t quite as painful — too many teen texters drove the market for a solution.
However, the wireless business has changed again. In other words — today carriers provide unlimited messaging and limited data plans, so the need for a multiplatform, multi-carrier messaging isn’t as great.
Although texting through Whatsapp, Kik and Snapchat shouldn’t use much data — understand your child is not just sending text. Videos, full-size photos and other media can add up — particularly if they have a lot of friends and they’re frequent users.
A Couple of Notes Concerning Whatsapp.
Unlike Kik and SnapChat, there actually is a small $1.00 per year fee to use the service after your first year of use. From what I understand, that $1.00 fee is to cover the account verification texts that is sent to users when they register for the app.
Some of the concerns with the app have related to privacy. As of this writing, users have been required to upload their mobile phone’s entire address book to WhatsApp servers so that WhatsApp could determine which of the users’ contacts, is available via the app. To that end, everyone that is in a user’s phone or contact list gets mirrored to the Whatsapp servers.
While this probably will not provide enough information to create significant privacy problems — one never knows when, how and who might find that information of value should the data be breached. Sadly we know all too often how that can occur.
I Like Mine Hashed and Salted
One of the bigger issues with WhatsApp is that user account password information is hashed but not salted. Now if you’re like 99.9% of readers, you’re probably asking, “What the heck is this guy talking about?” No worries, I had the same question. In very simple terms, a password that is “hashed” but not salted is not as secure as one that is both hashed and salted. As such, WhatApp’s password protection is NOT as secure as some other platforms.
Techopedia explains Password Salting
“When a username has been established, the user will typically create a password to associate with this username. After the user has submitted the password to the salt-enabled system, the system appends the password to the username. Then, the new string of characters is hashed. This is a very affective way of encrypting passwords because even if two different users coincidentally select the same password, their usernames will almost certainly be different, thereby resulting in a different hash value.”
Other Privacy Issues
Several countries have had issues with the privacy of this app — but in general, this app is no better or worse than Kik, or SnapChat. As with most apps, parents should be more concerned with their teens use of that app rather than the app itself.
I was reading several articles about technology this weekend and found an applicable quote from The Guardian. The article, written by Jon Henley in July of 2010 quotes Philippa Grogan, 16, “I’d rather give up a kidney than give up my phone.” While I’m certain, if faced with that decision most teens would choose the kidney over the phone — it points to how life has changed with the adoption of smartphones over the past six years. Moreover, the evolution of apps has made parental management of such devices even more difficult.
The best advice I can give parents and grandparents is this:
• Stay on top of technology by setting up your own news page through Google. You can select any number of topics to gain access to daily articles on apps, cyber bullying, sexting and privacy. What’s more it’s free.
• Download the Flipboard app to your smartphone or tablet to track the constant evolution of technology and modern living. Flipboard’s recent website suggests: “Flipboard is a single place to discover, collect and share all the news you care about. And now Flipboard gets even more personal with the addition of over 34,000 topics to follow.”
I use Flipboard every day to keep one step ahead of the technology that will be adopted tomorrow. Whether you’re trying to understand the technology your child is using — or simply want one place to read world news, Flipboard is a tremendous app for parents.
• Establish tech-free zones in your house. This might vary based on the age of your child, but understand that the majority of sexting photos are taken in the bathroom and bedroom of homes. Additionally, according to researchers at the JFK Medical Center, the average teen sends 34 text messages when their parents already think they’re sleeping.
• Most importantly, talk to your kids and set expectations. You’ll be surprised how much can be accomplished by simply talking and establishing boundaries.
• Lastly, understand that never before in history has technology changed as rapidly as the era in which you are parenting your children.
The Theory Of The Old Grey Hare
I have a parenting theory that I call the Old Grey Hare. It’s based on the 1944 cartoon of the same name. In short, it assumes that just when you think you’ve resolved your conflict with teenagers, somebody sends reality your way which explodes your position and confidence.
I’m certain many parents often feel like Elmer Fudd in that cartoon.
The cartoon begins with Elmer sitting under a tree, saddened by his inability to stay one step ahead of Bugs — and finally catch him. The “voice of God” encourages Elmer to be vigilant and he’ll find success. But Elmer wonders how long it will take and is transported in a dream sequence into the future — all the way to the year 2000 A.D..
Both Elmer and Bugs have aged with white beards and canes — but the chase continues. Elmer shoots Bugs with his ultra-modern weapon finally beating his nemesis.
Another flashback occurs and Bugs reminds Elmer of when they were both young.
Following the sentimental flashback a tearful Bugs starts to dig his own grave, while Elmer weeps. At the point of burial, Bugs switches places with the emotional Elmer, and cheerfully buries him alive instead.
Thinking he has resolved his problem and beat his nemesis the buried but relieved Elmer quips, “Weww anyway, that pesky wabbit is out of my wife (life) fowevew and evew!”
However, Bugs suddenly enters the scene and says, “Well, now, I wouldn’t say that,” — plants a kiss on Elmer, then hands him a large firecracker; lights the fuse, and quickly departs.
How often have we felt that just when we thought we had a handle on technology, someone hands us a firecracker that explodes our hypothesis? Parenting today can certainly be a challenge — but we need to stay one step ahead of our children and these emerging technologies. Or, we too will succumb to the Old Grey Hare theory.
Do I think this evolution of technology will slow down anytime soon? To quote Bugs Bunny, “Well, now, I wouldn’t say that,”
Other articles that you might find of interest are:
CNBC Article. WhatApps hits 700 million users http://www.cnbc.com/id/102317986
CNET REVIEW http://www.cnet.com/products/whatsapp-messenger/
Know Your Apps http://www.knowyourapps.com/reviews/whatsapp-messenger/