Messaging services are providing a more private internet

Messaging services are providing a more private internet

This has advantages—and risks

Whatsapp, which 2bn people use to send some 100bn messages a day, is rarely in the news. When it is, the stories are mostly about whether, in order to increase competition, it should be hived off from its corporate parent, Facebook—a company rarely out of the news.

The difference in visibility is basic to the businesses involved. A social-media firm like Facebook exists to get things noticed, because its business model is based on selling attention to advertisers. What and who gain attention, and what can be done to withhold it from particular people and ideas, are contested issues. Messaging services like WhatsApp for the most part simply let people stay in touch with their families and chat with groups of friends and associates. In many places they increasingly offer ways to get in touch with businesses, too. They are of practical use in a way that social media are by and large not (never try to arrange cocktails over Twitter). But because they are removed from the public sphere they provoke far less outrage and controversy, and far fewer arguments over regulation.