It was in 2010 on this very blog that I wrote about the ‘German Angst’ for the first time. Back then, the topic was Germany’s collective irrational reaction to Google Streetview, the strange and hilarious news pieces at the time, and the overall fear of a violation of our collective privacy.
Now, nearly four years later, some things have changed (we’ve finally won the World Cup) and some things haven’t – the German Angst is back with a vengeance. Or rather, it never left. While the Google Streetview outrage felt like a very German peculiarity, these days such outrage is more common. It’s still mostly about privacy violations, failed data protection and the inability of foreign tech companies to calm the Deutschen Michel’s distrust, but, while the sensitivities of services like Streetview are nearly forgotten (and Google has more pressing problems in Germany) the attention has shifted. Today’s downfall of German society will be brought upon us by everybody’s favourite tools for communicating, coordinating and sharing nude selfies – Instant Messaging Apps.
First of all, when we are talking IM in Germany, we are mostly talking about WhatsApp, and recently about Facebook Messenger. It is known by some in Germany that services like Snapchat exist, but if their German Wikipedia page is an indicator, first and foremost they’re known for being really bad at data protection; something mirrored by the Facebook fan page, which has a staggering 62 fans in Germany compared to 3,243,619 international ones
But back to Facebook and WhatsApp: Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking site isn’t really trusted here in regards to data privacy, which is why the announcement to put its messenger in a separate mobile app is seen as a ruse to spy on everyone, and why there are probably more German articles out there about How to avoid Installing Facebook Messenger than about what the app actually does. So you can imagine how big the outcry was when, earlier this year, Facebook announced it would acquire WhatsApp. German media and (ironically) my own Facebook feed were full of people looking for alternatives, fearing for their privacy and damning the powers that be. Within a day, the Swiss IM app ‘Threema’ doubled its users to 400,000, two months later it reached nearly 3 million angsty Germans. Mind you, all of this wasn’t the result of any update release or news about actual changes – it was just from the acquisition announcement.
So, did the German Angst actually lead to innovation; to change? No, not really. Because that’s the other fascinating part about it: as quickly as everybody started condemning WhatsApp and changing to other services, they just as quickly stopped caring. After April, you didn’t really hear anything about Threema anymore, WhatsApp is as popular as ever and still nobody uses Snapchat. And also if the reporting about a new WhatsApp update this week is anything to go by, the German Angst is alive and well yet again – as you can see in these screenshots: