While Skype for Business Online is being retired on July 31st and WhatsApp is still under fire due to the plans of extending it data sharing with Facebook, users are in search for alternatives.
The Evaluation of Alternatives
First of all, choosing the right alternative is always a matter of personal need and the lowest common factor: Many Skype for Business-users will be migrated to the successor Microsoft Teams, many WhatsApp-users will keep the apps installed as just everyone seem to use it and doesn’t want to change anyway. Those who are striving for alternatives — especially in the collaboration-sector — may already have heard of Nextcloud and especially its „Talk“-feature which takes now yet another approach on WhatsApp and Skype for Business, putting „control“ and „privacy“ in the focus once again.
Enter, Talk 12!
Today, Talk 12 is released and it introduces some features users of the named services already know and may have missed in Talk so far. In the orbit of this release, Nextcloud takes another approach on helping the users to move to another solution, breaking the chain of letting the big tech corporations own our data:
„Having a handful of huge corporations in control over the vast majority of communication of, basically, everyone, everywhere is a huge risk. Where are these companies located and under what jurisdiction do they operate? Can they just shut accounts down? Spy on communication? The ads-based business model of many big firms alone, essentially monetizing surveillance, should give pause.“
(Frank Karlitschek, CEO at Nextcloud GmbH)
It’s — by all means and as always — also a political topic: Can I self-host? Can I maintain this infrastructure? Can I move from the big companies to a smaller solution but with absolute control about my data? Can I convince my co-workers and colleagues to move as well? Is everything encrypted End-to-End? WhatsApp for examples promotes End-to-End-Encryption (E2EE) among its users but this does in no way protect them from metadata harvesting — where metadata is the real gold-bearing material here.
Of course, through its app, WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has access to all the data regardless of encryption anyway. Will that be abused? Was it already abused before? Previously, Facebook has been caught abusing phone numbers given for use with 2-Factor Authentication (2FA) for advertising purposes. In addition to other frequent security breaches, this proves that trusting so much data to one company is fundamentally risky as „free“ services are far from free from consequences for users — you pay with another currency: Your data. Earlier this year, WhatsApp began to aggressively push users to accept a new, vague and intransparent updated policy in a way that, according to EU consumer organizations, breaches the EU directives on Unfair Commercial Practices and, in general, the EU consumer rights. The result: There was a run on alternative and secure messengers like Signal or Threema but nothing compared to the user-base who still acknowledged this new EULA despite of its consequences.
Enter, Nextcloud Talk: As yet another alternative and closing the gap to a (possibly installed) Nextcloud-base, Talk provides users with all the common features of instant messaging apps, such as one on one chat, group chat, video calls, message replies, voice messages, emojis, media sharing, read status setting and a lot more available on the web and mobile. Security and respect for privacy are the biggest advantages of Nextcloud Talk, putting users in control of their data once again which is the mantra of Nextcloud anyway.
„Big tech firms have shown they cannot be trusted, but for many users there simply was no alternative. This release of Talk introduces the most important capabilities for both private users and businesses to start migrating.“
(Jos Poortvliet, Director Marketing at Nextcloud GmbH)
Nextcloud Hub 22 offers a complete collaboration alternative that is 100% on-premises (hosted in your home, at your local provider or a service provider), without vendor lock-in or (meta) data leaks. Among the features it contains are, for example, the persistent chats, which offers a record of earlier conversations which can be easily searched from within Nextcloud’s Unified Search. It is easy to create conversations, search and join conversations from other teams or invite guest users with a public link. Talk offers robust meeting capabilities, complete with moderation, a lobby, document sharing and collaborative editing and more. External users can join easily from a browser, without having the installation of an app forced on them.
Changes in Talk 12
Mobile users can now easily share photos, documents or contact details in a chat or share their location. Both web and mobile interfaces offer an easy way to share a voice message, another feature popular among younger users (if not THE trending one I will never understand!). Profile information and configuration and editable conversation descriptions complete the user experience on mobile just as people know it from the „common“ messengers.
Completing the set, Nextcloud Talk 12 expands on its integration with business workflows, allowing users to turn a chat message into a task, or share a task in a conversation. Conversations can be locked, a scheduled lobby can limit visibility for non-moderators and access to conversations can be configured for other users on the server, guest account users or guests that join with a public link. Outlook and Nextcloud Calendar integration makes it easy to create a Talk room with a single click. Messages can now be deleted by the user who created them for six hours after they are sent.
„Not every business or individual is ready to run their own server. Luckily, hosting providers across the globe are starting to host Nextcloud Talk, giving users a local chat and video communication platform they can trust.“
(Andreas Rode, CCO at Nextcloud GmbH)
Nextcloud Talk 12 is available in Nextcloud’s app store at the time of writing and hosted solutions are offered by major hosting providers like IONOS or Deutsche Telekom. The Sendent Nextcloud Outlook add-in is available through Nextcloud, a free version can be found on Nextcloud’s website. After all, there ARE alternatives but, as often, it just needs some aspects to get the ball running: Nextcloud and Nextcloud Talk 12 may be the digital components you or your company have been waiting for!