Meme’s have abounded as well as an intense internet discussion on just about every online forum regarding the new WhatsApp policy.

Users feel the new policy compromises their privacy by opting to share certain user information with a broader Facebook network. It is pertinent to mention that the policy for Europe has remained unchanged.

WhatsApp currently has about 2.5 billion users globally. These users, except for the ones living in Europe, must agree to the new WhatsApp policy by February 8th if they want to continue using the messaging app.  As per the new policy, WhatsApp will now collect user data including the users’ name, mobile number, photos, statuses, phone model, operating system, device information, IP address, mobile network, location and other related information. This information will then be stored and shared with various social media platforms, especially with Whats App parent company Facebook.

Many people are wondering, why this information being collected and for what purpose? Well WhatsApp itself  has stated that this information can be used for better operation of services and even for providing, improving, understanding, customising, supporting, and marketing services or products especially in respect to Facebook products or services. It is worth noting that approximately 21.5 billion USD of Facebook’s revenue around the end of the year 2020 came from ads. WhatsApp does not have ads but by analysing various information and statistics of WhatsApp users, it could be possible to offer respective WhatsApp users targeted ads on Facebook as well as Instagram. The more appropriate ads would be assessed after analysing a WhatsApp user’s information. In fact, via analysing users’ habits on WhatsApp, appropriate IG and FB business pages could be recommended to.

The rise of online shopping during pandemic could have been main catalyst for the change in WhatsApp privacy policy.

Though the catalyst could be speculation ,it has been specifically  mentioned that chat between a user and a company could be used  for own marketing purposes by the company  which may include advertising on Facebook.”  This shows that WhatsApp policy has definitely changed policy to promote online shopping or online business transactions.

In WhatsApp’s defense they have stated that private messages and even group messages are secure. What is not secure are the messages and pictures shared with business pages. WhatsApp admits that the communication with businesses will not be private but communication with your family or friends will remain private. Large businesses will basically be given hosting services to manage and communicate via Facebook and WhatsApp chats will be used to communicate with customers as well as send information like purchase receipts. The fact is that this information is then used for further marketing purposes i.e. Facebook advertisements. This is also why WhatsApp states that business accounts on the messaging app are clearly labeled. This way you know that the information from this chat will be shared.

One of the most surprising facts regarding the WhatsApp policy is that this policy has not changed for European countries. European data protection authorities which under the European Union’s strict privacy laws are empowered to fine companies as much as 4% of global annual revenue if they breach the bloc’s rules. Furthermore the European Union’s antitrust authorities fined Facebook back in 2017 practically 110 million euros. This could mean that there is a definite reluctance in having the new policy extend to the EU to avoid any further fines. It is disappointing yet not surprising to learn that this same fear of fines does not extend to South Asia including Pakistan.

For Pakistan, a nation which consists of society where people prefer their privacy this has caused a definite uproar. It has been reported that Ministry of IT is now in the midst of developing a new app which will protect the data of Pakistani users. It is claimed that the personal information will also not be shared with any third parties. The users will be able to register with the app using their mobile and CNIC numbers, according to the IT ministry. One can’t help but wonder why despite various government funded incubation centers such as Plan 9 and NIC, this initiative was not taken before?

It is important to develop domestic market of messaging apps tailored to suit our society. The new WhatsApp Policy already states the sharing of a plethora of information. What will happen when this policy starts extending further and further, next seeking approval for access to personal chats and calls? If we do not focus on local messaging app development it may very well be the case in the future that we will have to sign away what little is left of our privacy to WhatsApp and Facebook.

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Sabeen Arshad

Sabeen Arshad

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