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Perspective: When everything depends on an app...

Markus Winkler

It has been a tough week for Facebook.

On Sunday, Frances Haugen — the Facebook whistle blower — sat down with 60 Minutes and detailed how the company not only knew its products contributed to meaningful harm but deliberately hid this information from the public. And then on Monday, in what many saw as a kind of poetic justice, Facebook and all its products unexpectedly went dark for over six hours, the worst outage to hit the platform since 2008.

But I do not want to talk about the inconvenience of being without your daily dose of vaccine conspiracy or the inability to post images of Monday’s lunch to your Instagram story. I want to talk about the other app that was hit hard — Whatsapp.

Whatsapp is a cross-platform messaging and voice-over-IP service acquired by Facebook in 2014. Its popularity in the U.S. is limited. In fact, you may have never even heard of it. But it is huge elsewhere in the world, especially in the global south, where Whatsapp has become the principle means of telecommunication for individuals, government offices, and private industry. So when Facebook went down, Whatsapp went with it, and millions of people lost contact with the outside world.

This was more than an inconvenience, it was a matter of life and livelihood. As Facebook has grown, it has become an indispensable part of many people’s lives, kind of like a public utility. But unlike a public utility, the company has operated with little or no oversight or regulation. This week might just be the tipping point.

I’m David Gunkel and that’s my Perspective.

Northern Illinois University professor and author