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What's Wrong with WhatsApp Message Tunneling

Posted on May 7, 2017

A colleague asked me on Twitter what the problems do I have with the way WhatsApp tunnels all the messages though my phone:

@raindev_: I’m tired of WhatsApp tunneling all the messages through my phone. Time to look for an alternative?

@JensRantil: Also, what part about the tunneling do you find annoying? Very rarely don’t I have my phone on same Wi-Fi as computer.

The answer turned out to be too long for Twitter so I decided to write a short post.

Just to clarify: it’s not required for the phone to be on the same Wi-Fi network, being connected to the Internet is enough.

While that’s true that most of the time my phone is connected, I have a few issue with this approach.

  1. I doesn’t work truly reliably. Sometimes I need to wake up my phone to connect/reconnect to WhatsApp from the desktop.

  2. It drains phone battery unnecessarily. Especially if I’m connected to WhatsApp the whole day, e.g. at an office. While the impact may not be huge really, I don’t see a reason to sacrifice part of already scarce phone battery life.

  3. My phone isn’t really always connected. I don’t want to fall offline if I forgot a charger/to charge/or my phone altogether. Made worse by the fact that I need to scan a barcode from the phone to connect which is awkward to do remotely.

  4. Because all the messages have to be tunneled though my specific device, I can’t use WhatsApp on two different phones at the same time. Yes, I do use two phones regularly.

  5. If phone is offline, there’s no access to old messages as all of them are stored on the phone only.

  6. Also, while not directly caused by the tunneling, but tied together with the decision to do authentication by phone number: impossible to log out a device remotely, I’d better not loose my phone; lack of iPad app, is probably a result of the same decision line.

While all of the issues above are not critical (in fact I’ve used WhatsApp as my main messenger successfully for more than a year), they makes me look at alternatives time to time (the current contender is Wire).