Are You Privy to the New WhatsApp Privacy Policy?

by Rudra Mehta

 

Are You Privy to the New WhatsApp Privacy Policy?

January 7, 2021

WhatsApp recently updated their privacy guidelines and have notified active members to read and accept the terms before the 8th of February 2021. But what do the new words mean?

There was once a time when WhatsApp was all the rage on social media. Don’t get me wrong; it still is, but for different reasons. When it started, WhatsApp was a subscription-based service that charged users every year to use the app. It then proceeded to offer the first year for free and then slowly phased out all in-app purchases. This was, of course, before the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook. Since then, the journey of WhatsApp has been on a downward spiral.

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You either accept the new terms of service or delete your account. There is now greater clarity on what user data is collected, how they collect your location information, how everything ties in with other Facebook services and what Businesses on WhatsApp can do with your data.

Humble Beginnings

WhatsApp valued one thing the most over everything else; privacy. Privacy formed WhatsApp’s User Policy’s crux for most of its formative years until Facebook acquired it. Data Protection, End-to-End Encryption, and Profile Safety remained a priority, and it duly delivered them to users, but times are fast changing. WhatsApp is slowly becoming the latest victim of “Facebook-isation”.

Used as a slang, Facebook-isation is essentially the process of apps, platforms, and services falling prey to the lengthy and invasive practices of Facebook. Facebook was the first central social media platform for the masses (Orkut was a colossal blunder, if I’m honest). It drew people in with its ease of connectivity and a host of other features. What started as a social wall soon became hubs of personal data, and before we knew it, almost everything we are is known to Facebook.

A data breach suit followed, most notably remembered by the countless lizard and robot memes about Mark Zuckerberg (let the poor guy live!). Since then, the case has been settled with Facebook committing to various measures for the next five years to protect user data and maintain privacy in the best way possible.

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Million Whatsapp Users In India

The Instagram Model

Instagram is also a classic case of an independent platform gone rogue. After its acquisition by Facebook, Instagram went through a drastic makeover rapidly, resulting in a host of changes, some not so pleasant. New users were given the comfort of using their Facebook accounts to register on Instagram. Cross sharing on multiple platforms, User integrations, Insights, and much more allowed more opportunities to use Instagram as a tool. Then, the “Facebook-isation” started.

Data sharing was the first guideline introduced, where all Insta users would share their data with Facebook. Insta DMs (read Twitter), Insta stories (*ahem* Snapchat), and Insta reels (*ahem* TikTok) made their way onto the platform and soon, onto Facebook as well with just some rebranding. Facebook Market made its way onto Instagram too. The latest feature to be converted was the DM feature, which has now been integrated with Facebook Messenger. The new WhatsApp Privacy Policy has similar feels to that of Instagram’s new policy, and that exactly is why the new guidelines scream uncertainty.

WhatsApp Data Privacy
Data Privacy is a huge issue on Social Media and WhatsApp isn't helping the cause.

The WhatsApp Privacy Policy

So, what’s the bad news this time? Well, for starters, WhatsApp will collect all your data such as battery level, signal, network provider, ISP, and other hardware stats. This data will also be shared with Facebook. Your name and phone number are also included in the list. A unique metric is an identifier, tokens related to device-specific users (same account on different devices or multiple accounts on the same machine, etc.).

Targeted advertising can be born out of this arrangement, and WhatsApp has categorically denied their introduction in the policy. However, they have mentioned that they may consider this in the future and update the WhatsApp privacy policy accordingly.

The second update to the policy is business-related. Business accounts on WhatsApp will have now have more power over managing their accounts and enterprises with the help of Facebook. Businesses can now outsource their communications and management to third parties, and that can leave a customer vulnerable to revealing personal data to a random entity. Data Usage is a grey area in this case. Businesses can also use Facebook offered services to manage and store their chats and data.

Data Never Goes Away

Lastly, they speak about storing WhatsApp data moving forward, which was never a thing until now. This also means that if and when you’d want to delete your account, merely deactivating your account from the app will do nada. Your chats and group info will still exist on your friends’ accounts and Facebook’s data centre. You will have quite a lot of tracking to do with your digital footprint to clean your WhatsApp presence. Facebook has subsequently announced that all this data will be stored on their servers in the US. It will be interesting to see how this plays out between countries that may consider this indirect surveillance of their citizens or even simple trade relations. India recently agreed to a strategic deal with the US against China, and this new policy might throw a spanner in the works in the long run.

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‘There’s a lot more we need to figure out,’ Zuckerberg said amid privacy concerns surrounding the plans during a talk.

Is My Data in Danger?

Short answer, no. Long answer, yes. While the WhatsApp Privacy Policy designed now does not directly affect us, it has laid some foundation for introducing new clauses. The data you put up for your friends to see is already out there, and hypothetically, will remain out there. If I were in your place, I’d have a good look at my Facebook-related apps’ privacy settings to ensure that the only public data on my account(s) is the data I want to be shared. The general rule of Social Media applies aptly over here; Never share more, always share less. Keep your sensitive data to yourself and secure. With an increase in cyber-attacks, most recently from the world’s largest botnet, Trickbot, thankfully taken down by Microsoft, no one is truly safe. Couple that with sudden changing guidelines and ToCs, cynicism is the philosophy to navigate social media.

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Make sure you read the WhatsApp Privacy Policy correctly and know what terms you’ll be accepting. But don’t dawdle too much. You only have until the 8th of February 2021 to make your decision.

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