When Facebook announced yesterday (May 15) that it’s buying GIF maker Giphy for $400 million, many people were concerned. Rightly so, Facebook does not have the privacy and security credentials that most of Giphy’s 700 million daily users expect.
And these days, as users become aware of the sheer amount of data that many “free” services such as Facebook and Google collect, people care a whole lot more about privacy. It’s led many to boycott the two firms and delete their Facebook accounts.
It’s therefore no surprise that soon after Facebook confirmed the acquisition, Giphy users were talking about deleting their app. Many have probably already done so.
But how can you avoid using Giphy, since it’s built into many messaging services, and how private is it now it is owned by Facebook?
What is Facebook going to do with Giphy data?
At the moment, we don’t really know what Facebook’s going to do with Giphy. The social network said in its announcement that it plans to “further integrate [Giphy’s] GIF library into Instagram and [its] other apps.”
But an article by Medium’s One Zero offers a scary picture of what could come: “The acquisition will likely also benefit all of Facebook’s products—from Messenger to WhatsApp— by, among other things, giving Facebook access to vast data about how GIFs are used across thousands of apps.”
As One Zero points out: Giphy already gets 50% of its traffic from Facebook’s apps, and bringing it in-house “provides a way to peek inside a vast swath of apps and websites beyond its own.”
“That means Facebook will be able to better understand user behavior in its own apps, and beyond, ultimately enhancing its ad-tracking capabilities further.”
Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET agrees that the Giphy purchase will provide even more access to data: “Facebook has habitually wanted the upper hand over its rivals and now it has an impressive access to even more rich data. They will also have even better insight into the behavior on how people use GIFs.”
Bloomberg reporter Sarah Frier said in a tweet that Facebook would know where its images are being used. “Facebook tells me they would know what GIFs are being used on what apps at what frequency (bulk anonymous data, not personally identifiable).”
I contacted Facebook for a comment and will update this article when the social network responds.
How to avoid Giphy
So how do you avoid Giphy?
If you have a Giphy account and don’t want the Facebook empire to own your personal details Moore suggests “deleting your account before the transition is made.”
If you’re an iPhone user, Apple includes its own iMessage GIF search app and according to 9to5Mac, it’s powered by Microsoft-owned Bing. But there is a catch: “Technically, Bing can still source GIFs through Giphy via Apple’s native iMessage search, but it’s not directly powered by Giphy,” 9to5Mac says.
For iPhone and iPad users, 9to5Mac included a great list of alternatives that you can look up.
Secure messaging app Signal, meanwhile, is using Giphy, but it uses its own privacy-preserving proxy.
Facebook’s purchase of Giphy is certainly cause for concern. I’d advise you to delete the app if you have it, and try to avoid it where you can.