Instant Messenger Requirements

For decades, data has been considered the new gold. Edward Snowden made it public that people who were not even criminals were being spied on by intelligence agencies on a grand scale in 2013, which jeopardized his own life. Big corporations like Facebook and Amazon coast from one data scandal to another. However, most people react to such shocking news the same way they react to the news on their social networks. They just do not appear to be receptive to negative news. They find it unpleasant, ignore it, and simply keep on swiping until another pleasant message or a picture/video of a baby animal pops up. The matter is forgotten within seconds once again, and therefore, everything is great again. Spoiler Alert: No, it is absolutely not!

Likewise, the internet has been continuously consuming more energy for decades, and the forecasts do not look good for this to improve in the next few decades. This is because the transmission, storage, and management of data is highly energy-intensive. Then, it also depends on how the data is transmitted. Although, a more in-depth blog article will be written about this topic in the future.

The situation may sound like we are living in George Orwell's novel 1984, which, by the way, was written in 1946. However, we are living in the 2020s. As tragic as the described scenario seems, it does not mean that we have to sit on the sidelines and watch our lives being dominated by large corporations. Or even worse, by people who have completely handed over the control of their lives to large corporations and demand that we adapt to their lifestyle.

To counteract this, I would like to start where the most substantial amount and most sensitive data is created and generates significant levels of CO2 emissions, namely in daily communication.

Considering these aspects, I would like to define requirements for instant messengers.

1. Private Messages

An instant messenger is supposed to do what you expect it to do precisely: Transfer messages that you have sent to the recipient.

To define this specification as the first requirement for an instant messenger probably appears very paradoxical. However, what many instant messengers have in common nowadays is that the conversations are not really private, and maybe that is why PM (private message) was replaced by DM (direct message) since even the companies found the concept of "private" too absurd.

When I engage in a private conversation with someone, I want that conversation to actually stay between us. Large corporations getting involved in conversations to collect data and enrich themselves from it is not supposed to be included in a private conversation. Moreover, it is absolutely absurd that this is tolerated by many people or even considered normal by now.

Encryption must be implemented and traceable, and the keys must evidently only be accessible to the person from whom the encrypted message originates. A business that makes millions annually from its sole business model, namely the slaughtering and selling of data, cannot be trusted when it claims that "your data is safe with us." Would you trust such folks with the key to your apartment?*

Allowing data to be collected causes immense environmental damage. Here is a simplified example with data-collecting companies: In this process, data must be collected, whether on the end devices of the users directly or in the server rooms of the companies. Once this data has been collected, it is analyzed. This requires computers with high performance; in some cases, even artificial intelligence is used to implement efficient processing and storage since various companies are processing tens of millions of data files per hour. Artificial Intelligence, however, needs an unfathomable quantity of energy, even for remarkably trivial tasks.

Once the data has been processed, it is listed for sale. There, anyone - yes, even criminals - can acquire this data. Afterward, these data files are stored in databases at other companies to perform further analyses. E.g., a company for health insurance will be interested in whether its customers endanger their lives by playing extreme sports or whether these individuals often appear with liquor bottles and cigarettes on pictures posted on social networks, which, of course, leads to an increase in the premiums of these people. So every time data is sold, energy is wasted again. A database is created with this data, energy is consumed for further data analysis, etc. Plus, that was just one example showing where the data ends up and how energy is wasted yet again.

If you regularly provide data to a data collector, this always has the consequence of triggering a domino effect regarding energy-wasting tasks.

So even if the instant messenger only does what you expect it to do, this could considerably reduce your own ecological fingerprint, save money, and even protect your own future or the future of your children.

One thing that would increase trust in the software would be if the program's code is available. This is called open-source software, and software developers could understand what the software really does.

2. Multiple Devices and Operating Systems

To communicate efficiently, an instant messenger should be usable on multiple devices. Most people use smartphones for communication; however, I prefer my smartphone to be (and remain) turned off through most of the day, and I can write on my PC (with Linux as the operating system). It is much faster to compose and send a message within seconds on a real keyboard since I have mastered the 10-finger system instead of cumbersomely stringing all the words together on a tiny touchscreen keyboard.

Another reason, needless to say, is that an instant messenger should not be limited to a specific device, such as an iPhone, as this already excludes freedom-loving people from communicating.

3. No Obligatory Phone Number

Instant messaging has been around for about 30 years, and there has seldom been the necessity to use a phone number for it. Even presently, in most cases, there is no need for a phone number at all. For example, WhatsApp uses the internet for its communication channels, which can work perfectly without a mobile network. Nevertheless, the most common instant messengers are owned by large data-collecting companies, who, of course, have a vested interest in identifying you as accurately as possible so that all the data collected can be linked to a tangible person. Since it is currently becoming increasingly complicated to obtain a phone number without confirming your identity, this is naturally a bullseye for data collectors.

An email address would be better for an instant messenger. An email inbox with a trustworthy provider can be created within a few minutes and can then be used for functions like password recovery. Yet, even an email address is not technically necessary for an instant messenger.

4. Simple Deletion of Your Data

In everyday communication, over 99% of the data is trash data from the time it is read. Therefore, this suggests that the energy spent on storing, transmitting, and making old data available 24 hours a day is absolutely unnecessary.

A straightforward solution to this problem would be instant messengers implementing a feature that automatically deletes data that reaches a certain age. After all, if we are being honest with ourselves, we rarely read chat messages that are over a week old, and when do we read chat messages that are over a month old? Exactly, never! Unless, of course, it is the chat from our newest romance. However, this is only an exception and does not justify perpetuating this problem.

Be careful with data-collecting companies! Just because you mark something as "deleted," it does not mean that it has actually been deleted. If these kinds of companies provide software to you, the reason is monetizing it, and they can only do that with your data. A "delete" button does not delete anything the company is interested in; it just hides it from you, simply to make you feel better. However, the data continues to exist, continues to be processed, continues to consume electricity, and continues to produce unnecessary greenhouse gases. Therefore, it is vital that the instant messenger is not made by such companies and that no technologies from these companies have been incorporated.

Periodic/automatic deletion of old and unnecessary data can significantly reduce the burden on the IT infrastructure and considerably reduce your environmental footprint as well.

With these requirements, I can figure out which instant messengers to even consider.

* While proofreading, it occurred to me that there are already many people who have equipped their entire apartment with "smart" technology. In each room, they have microphones, cameras, and umpteen sensors from data-collecting companies. For example, you simply need to shout out the name Alexa to locate these bugging devices. In such cases, it is unnecessary to discuss whether you could entrust your apartment key to such companies because these companies are already ensconced in your apartment in this scenario, monitoring you 24 hours a day. This makes the apartment key example useless, and I fear that many people no longer understand this analogy altogether.