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WhatsApp Update: Concerned About New Privacy Policy – OpEd


WhatsApp is by far the most popular messaging app in the world with around 2.5 billion users. Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 and has been facing criticism on the way it handles user data. People always wondered as how their data would flow between the two platforms. But things took an exciting turn when on 4th of January WhatsApp updated its terms of use and now forcing users to share data with Facebook or delete their accounts. 

On January 4 a notification pop-up has told consumers that the privacy policy of the app will change as of February 8 and that they must accept the conditions to continue using the app. Agreeing the terms means that private data including phone numbers, contacts, IP addresses and locations will be shared with Facebook and its subsidiaries. Current Terms and Privacy Policy upgrade builds on a related change WhatsApp revealed in July last year. However, with the previous version, WhatsApp offered users the option to “not share information about your WhatsApp account with Facebook.” In the current update, WhatsApp eliminated this option, and users would have to follow the updated terms and privacy policies.

WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy has left many users confused about the new application rules. Khilji, a digital right expert said, “They will use this information to target you through Facebook ads.” World’s richest man Elon Musk tweeted and recommended people to “Use Signal” to ensure their privacy. Some privacy experts criticized the change on Twitter to “accept our data grab or get out” and recommended users turn to applications like Signal and Telegram. Signal and Telegram messaging apps are seeing a sudden increase in demand after the updated privacy policy. More than 100,000 users installed Signal across the app stores of Apple and Google in the last two days, while Telegram picked up nearly 2.2 million downloads, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower. Turkcell reported a similar pattern in Turkey, with about 1 million new users joining BiP messenger till 10th of January in just 24 hours.

Recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s media office and the country’s defense ministry told reporters that they were leaving WhatsApp Inc. to join the global flight from the popular messaging app to new terms of use that sparked privacy concerns. After a backlash, WhatsApp announced that users in the “Europe Region” would not be impacted by the change, since their data would not be exchanged with Facebook. Fortunately, these regulatory updates do not extend to consumers in the EU and UK, since WhatsApp would comply with the stringent specifications of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

While Pakistan announced that they are looking forward to introducing a robust data protection law in order to protect the privacy of people, Fawad Chaudhary Minister for Science and technology claimed. On the other hand, WhatsApp clarifies updated privacy policy only affects Business Accounts, regular chat data will not be shared. WhatsApp officials also made clear, “As we announced in October, WhatsApp wants to make it easier for people to both make a purchase and get help from a business directly on WhatsApp. While most people use WhatsApp to chat with friends and family, increasingly people are reaching out to businesses as well. To further increase transparency, we updated the privacy policy to describe that going forward businesses can choose to receive secure hosting services from our parent company Facebook to help manage their communications with their customers on WhatsApp. Though of course, it remains up to the user whether or not they want to message with a business on WhatsApp. The update does not change WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices with Facebook and does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world. WhatsApp remains deeply committed to protecting people’s privacy. We are communicating directly with users through WhatsApp about these changes so they have time to review the new policy over the course of the next month.”

However, the 2.5 billion users are afraid and puzzled. As what does it mean and how it will impact their privacy and confidentiality…? People do realize that, if they search anything on Google, on Browser or any other search engines or watch particular type of videos on YouTube? From very next day, they will start receiving alert or popping up suggestions or ads for same types of products / videos. This is because on 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G network all the data and information are being stored in data centers and sold to the companies, through which these free apps or channels earns money but before it was being done without any agreement or disclosure, now to be on safer side and prevent from being sued by any of the user, WhatsApp is sending privacy agreement, so they could openly share the data to Facebook and to the companies.  Do remember in this World, “Nothing Comes for Free” if you are using any app or platform for free, it means they are not charging money but making money by selling your data to the companies and in the marketplace worldwide. Hence, it means you are the product that they are selling.

*Daniyal Talat finished his Masters in Defense & Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.

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