NEW YORK (AP) — When I used WhatsApp to tell my family about Facebook's $19 billion purchase of the company that makes my favorite app, I punctuated the message with a string of crying emojis (cartoon faces).
I'm paranoid that Facebook's massive data-gathering operation will enable advertisers to stalk me based on intimate conversations I have with loved ones on WhatsApp.
I started using the phone messaging service six months ago at the urging of my cousin, who was visiting New York from Israel. Since then, it's become the primary way I connect with friends and family across three continents — cheaper, easier and more fun than calls, texts, videoconferences or email.
What makes WhatsApp so great? Sending photos and videos that you take on your phone is simple and quick, just a few taps, even for my technophobe mother. It lets Android and iPhone users talk in groups, which doesn't work well with standard text messaging. A group chat is easy to set up, and once you create the group, it's always there. Conversations with people overseas are instantaneous and free. You don't need to remember a password or sign in after you've set up an account. It's always on, but the app doesn't bug you unless you have a message. It lets you know your messages have been delivered and seen. Also, there are no annoying ads.
WhatsApp is my respite from Facebook. For me, the world's largest social network has become a junkyard of updates from people I don't really know and ads for products I don't care about. It's all about people jostling for publicity and craving approval, seeking likes and comments from near-strangers.
But WhatsApp is the best stand-in for a conversation you have over dinner with people you love. It's intimate. It's personal. I rely on it.
I grew up eating dinner every night with my parents and two sisters. These days, the five of us live in three different cities. Even so, we have a running conversation, sometimes with dozens of chats, photos and videos a day. We send pictures of food we're eating or cooking. (A lot of those. We like food.) We've traded city views from the tops of mountains, thoughts on TV shows and movies we're watching, information on flights we've booked, and simple messages saying "hi" and "I miss you."
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