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Sajai Singh

Partner, J Sagar Associates

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What is and What Isn’t in the WhatsApp Privacy Policy

Maybe it is time that those who are uncomfortable with the new objectives move to a paid secure messenger service, such as Threema, and avoid free messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, iMessage, and Telegram. In so doing, one would not rely on the forces of competition to keep one’s data out of the hands of hackers, corporations, and governments, given that a user fee would ensure this security.

When WhatsApp Head, Will Cathcart, announced that WhatsApp is in competition with other service providers on the privacy issue, he was clarifying his stand on a heated debate that has been burning the social media world. Would WhatsApp consciously commit to a change in its committed practice that would incur a migration of its users to other messaging platforms, knowing that people have choices in how they communicate and are free to exercise this right? Would an App alter its policy to jeopardize its loyal user base?

In an endeavour to be transparent to its users, WhatsApp shared its Privacy Policy which aims to improve its people-to-business features. It informed users that their metadata may be shared with businesses they would like to communicate with. This data included the phone number, profile names and pictures, and diagnostic data, not the content of any chat, which was encrypted and not accessible to WhatsApp itself.

The link of WhatsApp to Facebook and the fact that some businesses could be hosted by Facebook led to a social media frenzy, knocking on the doors of the Government and Judiciary. WhatsApp countered this backlash by reiterating that private messages and personal chats continue to be protected by end-to-end encryption, private locations cannot be seen, and contacts are not shared with Facebook.

What was missed was that the user is still king. The user may choose not to use WhatsApp by moving to a competitor. The user may choose not to talk to any business they are uncomfortable with. And all that the user decides to keep private will not be shared with anyone.

Now to the ‘purpose’ debate. The Privacy Policy update is essential to address this issue. Users signed up with WhatsApp to communicate with others, probably for non-commercial purposes. If this communication happens with a business, the new policy explains the construct of sharing metadata, given that a business could use a third-party service to manage and host such chats.

While most of India may not take the issue seriously, those who read the fine print are aware that under the terms of the new policy businesses have access to relevant data when a user interacts with the business on the WhatsApp platform. This, by extension, offers an enhanced user experience in communicating with a business.

Maybe it is time that those who are uncomfortable with the new objectives move to a paid secure messenger service, such as Threema, and avoid free messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, iMessage, and Telegram. In so doing, one would not rely on the forces of competition to keep one’s data out of the hands of hackers, corporations, and governments, given that a user fee would ensure this security.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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whatsapp privacy policy sajai singh J. Sagar Associates

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