The Question of Privacy

WhatsApp messaging service has updated its privacy policy.


Photo credit: pixabay.com

Akash Umesh Khandke

Bengaluru: WhatsApp messaging service has updated its privacy policy. It will be implemented from May 15 which was earlier scheduled for February 8. According to WhatsApp, the update is delayed to make the users understand the company’s principles and the facts related to the app.

The updated policy states that personal chats will be end-to-end encrypted, no middlemen, including WhatsApp, can read them but the application will collect information such as phone number, mobile device information, Internet Protocol (IP) address etc and can share it with Facebook. The new privacy policy is a major concern for businesses on WhatsApp as content shared with a business on WhatsApp will be visible to ‘several people in that business.’

The policy reflects Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of interoperability which aims at building WhatsApp's deeper integration into Facebook's other companies such as Facebook Messenger and Instagram. The speculations and concerns regarding the new changes in the policy have raised a number of questions. WhatsApp has been sharing data with Facebook in the past as well but there was an option to disable it. With the new terms and conditions, the user has no control over data sharing. Collection of IP address, transactions, and payments data may possess a threat to the privacy of the user. Facebook has defended its move by claiming that the data is collected to ensure better security and improve user experience. WhatsApp has been advertisement-free for years and with the current policy, it seems to continue it. But the data shared with Facebook may be used to operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market their services, including when the users install, access, or use their services.

WhatsApp has more than 50 million business accounts. The content shared with a business on the application will be visible to several people connected with that business. It implies that if the company has employed a third-party service provider to help manage its communication, the data is exposed to that service provider as well. Sensitive information, such as transaction details, is shared in business chats. Data leaked from the companies’ end could land the users in trouble.

According to Cyber Law & Cyber Security Expert and advocate Prashant Mali, most people in India are not sensitive towards securing their personal information such as IP address, phone number etc. People should be made aware of digital privacy and its importance. India needs a strong cyber law such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implemented in the European Union member states and the European economic area. The Indian government should stress on data localisation. Data should be stored in Indian cyber boundaries.

Currently, a large number of people are in search of WhatsApp’s alternative. Signal and Telegram applications top the chart as WhatsApp’s replacements with almost four million downloads after WhatsApp declared its privacy policy.

"Most of the applications ask for location and hardware permissions. WhatsApp is no exception. As it is an advertisement-free platform it uses user’s information for revenue generation," says Rohit Yadav, a software engineer.

The highlighted green 'agree' button at the end of the privacy policy indicates that either the user has to accept the changes and additions to the policy or switch to other social media platforms as there is no option to reject the changes.

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