The big change that had got everyone up in arms was that WhatsApp, which is owned by internet giant Facebook, planned to share selected categories of user information with other Facebook Companies.
While this clause was by itself quite troubling, this wasn’t the end of the issue. The issue was that this was not a choice — users have time till February 8th, 2021 to accept this new clause. If they don’t accept this clause, then they won’t be able to use WhatsApp. The underlying message is simple – to use a Facebook product like WhatsApp or Instagram, a user has to be comfortable with some information on them being shared with their parent companies.
Before we move on, it’s important to state three major points that have arisen:
WhatsApp is very clear that the messages users send to each other are not among the information that is shared. The company categorically states that messages sent on the platform are end-to-end encrypted and that messages are not stored on company servers — undelivered messages are deleted after 30 days.
In a detailed blog post, WhatsApp also responded to the controversy by saying that the policy update did not affect the privacy of a user’s messages but only included changes related to messaging a business.
So, how does this impact me? And should I do anything about it?
However, as many will argue, migrating out of WhatsApp is easier said than done. According to an estimate in 2019, the app had 400 million users in India and has become omnipresent across the country. While there will be an initial rush of users to alternative apps, it would be safe to assume that a large majority of non-technical users would not care much about the privacy consequences and will continue to stick to WhatsApp.
In such a situation, you have two alternatives. You can choose to switch to another platform and delete WhatsApp. While you will have fewer privacy concerns, you may find it difficult to stay in touch with friends and family unless they all switch over to your messaging app of choice.
The other option is to continue with WhatsApp but being more vigilant with the data you share with it. If it is possible, get another number and use it solely for WhatsApp to ensure that the data collected from you is less. Be sparse about the data you share about yourself on all social media platforms but especially on platforms belonging to Facebook Companies.
Privacy will be one of the key issues in this era. The heartening thing about WhatsApp’s new policy update is the amount of noise it made — it shows people are now slowly waking up to the value of their data. Hopefully, Big Tech organizations will listen and ensure they provide more clarity about the data they collect, addressing all the chief privacy concerns.
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