Messaging Apps


Mobile messaging application services are a primary reason for the success of mobile devices. These allow for the continual connection of persons in real time for a multiplicity of communication purposes. Within Europe, the juxtaposition of closer national boundaries, divergent mobile markets, roaming costs, and limited options for ‘unlimited’ text messaging has contributed significantly to the success of mobile applications. In particular, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger dominate the Dutch messaging market in the Netherlands with 92% and 74% penetration, respectively (Bosman & de Brucyckere, 2016).

Though predominantly used for interpersonal communication amongst friends and family, mobile messaging apps play a significant role in other contexts, facilitating communication within workplaces, neighborhoods, community organizations and more. The varied use of these technologies raise significant privacy concerns given their ubiquity and high penetration rates. What we have begun to see is that the boundaries between previously separated ‘social establishments’ (Goffman, 1959) have begun to blur through the advent of new forms social communication tools that pierce these boundaries (Sánchez Abril et al., 2012). As an always-available means of reaching co-workers, neighbors and associates, they facilitate a persistent visibility and coordination among these social actors, and compromise the boundaries between these formerly distinct contexts (Schrock, 2015). These affordances are by definition connected to unanticipated and unrecoverable forms of exposure (Ball, 2009), alongside an inability for any social actor to fully consent to the uses and outcomes associated with their engagement with these groups.

Given these contextually disruptive features, emerging practices within workplaces and neighborhoods become sites in which transitions in privacy expectations and enactments are most evident. First, while shifts in how and what information employees exchange (e.g., requesting input for documentation, informing team members about upcoming events), may not initially raise privacy concerns, they are significant in relation to employee management, boundaries between personal and professional life, and forms of lateral surveillance. Secondly, neighborhoods are increasingly a locus for community building through ‘protective’ practices that encourage the safety and security for residents through the monitoring of activities within those neighborhoods (i.e., Neighborhood Watch/Buurtpreventie groups). In some cases, these serve as a forum for community policing as well as connecting and engaging with a broad range of civic matters. In both contexts, at issue is the normalization of the use of mobile messaging as an integral part of these practices with particular implications for privacy.