A tentative return to WhatsApp

Back in 2016 I had some phone troubles which resulted in me acquiring a new Windows Phone. It was during that brief period when such things were branded as Microsoft rather than Nokia devices. I wrote about it here, explaining why I had initially resisted installing WhatsApp, and why I would not be installing it on my new handset:

“While resisting the App for a year I figured that the main benefit – free texts to family and friends in Ireland and Spain – would only save me 10 or 15 English Pounds per year. I already get free international calls with Skype and if I need to send content (especially photos) I can carry on using email. So I won’t be downloading WhatsApp again on my new phone.”

Now, three years later, I have an Android phone (a Sony Experia) and have reluctantly installed WhatsApp, specifically to communicate with a handful of people who live outside the UK. The “About” part of my Profile states this clearly: “I use WhatsApp ONLY for friends and family outside the UK. If you’re in the UK please call or text. Thanks”.

The reason why I have returned to an App that I really don’t like is the new set of charges from my network provider. The cost of texts and calls to other countries has nearly quadrupled. At the start of last year, texts to Spain and Ireland cost around 12p each. By the summer of 2018 this had more than doubled, to 29p per text. By Christmas 2018 there had been a further increase, nearly 60%, to 46p per text. While my brother was visiting the UK last December, I called him on his Spanish mobile number. That call (which lasted 7 seconds) cost more than a pound. I get nostalgic about many things, but not for 1990s-style phone tariffs.

I assume that my network provider has introduced this eye-watering set of charges because they can no longer charge eye-watering amounts for roaming. The calls, text and data in our phone plans now follow us around the EU, as we discovered happily on holiday in Ireland last summer. We could call, text and browse the web without any extra fees. I’m guessing that someone (or a whole team of people) has taken a good look at all the areas where they can quadruple their charges, legally, and punished people like me accordingly. I was prepared to pay 12p a text for the hundred or so texts I send per year outside the UK, but not 46p each time. The tipping point was sending someone a 2-character reply (which read “Ok”) and realizing that it had cost me 23p per character. Were telegrams ever this expensive?

So, a few weeks ago, I reluctantly installed WhatsApp on my handset. It seems to want access to everything on it: Contacts, Photos, Files, Folders. Maybe it wants my bank details and PIN too, just in case, you know. It doesn’t look like there’s a way to pick and choose a handful of people with whom you want to communicate. Nor can you enter someone’s number manually. To get around all this, I have used email, text (at 46p a pop) or voice calls to tell my small network of friends and family abroad that I am back on WhatsApp and can reply to them if they contact me that way. My list of Contacts simply shows the number of each person. That’s fine by me. Some UK-based friends have also noticed my presence and ignored the information on my Profile, the line that says, ““I use WhatsApp ONLY for friends and family outside the UK. If you’re in the UK please call or text. Thanks”.  I am in a couple of those groups that I don’t need to be involved with: someone’s 50th birthday celebrations in Ireland that I won’t be going to; a First Holy Communion for which I have all the details and don’t need any updates. 22 unread messages and counting.

Earlier today my brother sent me, from Spain, a set of photos. I can’t see them clearly. If I click on one the following message appears: “To download media, allow WhatsApp access to your device’s photos, media and files”. I don’t want to. I click on “Not Now” rather than “Continue”. I have been clicking on “Not Now” rather a lot in recent weeks. At some point I might accidentally hit the wrong option and allow WhatsApp access to all the things it’s so interested in. Until then I shall continue to be a reluctant, tentative user of an App that I have never felt any enthusiasm for.




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