WhatsApp suddenly made data privacy a mainstream topic in 2021

WhatsApp suddenly made data privacy a mainstream topic in 2021

With the latest concerns regarding data privacy, Telegram and Signal are the two platforms consumers are embracing leaving WhatsApp, with installs surging for both of them.

It was not a usual sight. In the wee hours of the chilly weekend morning while we just went to check our mobile phones, what grabbed our attention suddenly was the four slide WhatsApp status. No, it was not a random one, but from WhatsApp’s official account itself, clarifying about the latest data privacy policy that fuelled the debate around data protection.

“We are committed to your privacy.”

“WhatsApp can’t read or listen to your personal conversations they’re end-to-end encrypted.”

“WhatsApp can’t see your shared location.”

“WhatsApp doesn’t share your contacts with Facebook.”

These were the four messages the popular instant messaging app owned by Facebook posted from its official account as status to allay fears of the users who have suddenly become very concerned about the data protection and many of them are switching to Telegram and Signal, which has suddenly came into limelight, especially after the Tweet by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Many of us have already accepted WhatsApp’s new ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ data privacy policy that essentially threatens the user to delete their account unless they accept the new terms before the deadline. We the users, like many other cases, didn’t bother to read the terms and conditions. However, thanks to some concerned people, it came to light that our data privacy is at stake due to the new privacy policy.

Since then, the hue and cry started and people started switching to other options like Telegram and Signal. The latter has witnessed such a surge in downloading and user registration that its server crashed and the company had to start purchasing new servers to accommodate its new users. This has led WhatsApp to issue a clarification about the user data privacy policy that resulted in the Sunday morning four slide status update. It also deferred the previous deadline of 8th February to 15th May.

Whatsapp data privacy

WhatsApp: Free or not?

In the last over half a decade, WhatsApp has become essentially the most used instant communication platform. If you don’t use WhatsApp, you are like in incommunicado ground. Since its inception, WhatsApp has claimed that security and data privacy are at its core DNA. The free, easy-to-use instant messaging app certainly has been the most popular one in the domain, and for valid reasons. Despite several rumors that it won’t be free anymore, the company has claimed that its service will remain free.

However, the users are recognizing now that despite shelling out money to use the app, there is still a price attached to the service it is offering. Data it is, the new gold of the 21st century.

Probably 99.99% (As the soap and antiseptic ads claim about their germ-killing capability) users don’t read those small fine print of the terms of the services, not only for WhatsApp but for anything. However, if someone reads the new terms of WhatsApp carefully, he or she will find that these are mandatory and that’s what made all the differences.

When Facebook acquired the instant messaging app, it certainly did that with the intent to monetise WhatsApp for its data. Hence, the new user data privacy policy terms and conditions allow Facebook to leverage user data and engagement on WhatsApp to build a platform using which the businesses can start sharing and selling products and services to WhatsApp users. Not that this policy is about WhatsApp sharing more data with Facebook, as the app has been sharing data with its parent company since 2016.

This is something similar to the malpractice many local recharge shops used to do. Taking the data of the customer and sell it to someone. Yes, WhatsApp’s latest data privacy policy is something just like that, in a more polished form albeit.

WhatsApp Samsung

WhatsApp: To use or not to use

If it has to be decided whether we will continue using WhatsApp or not. There are a couple of things to consider.

Over the short term, nothing much has changed for WhatsApp. According to experts, it remains secure with end-to-end encryption. Also, it will continue to share data with Facebook, as it has been doing all along since 2016. However, this will be the scenario till 15th May, before the new user data privacy policy comes into effect.

If we look at the long-term effect, it is never going to be the same again for WhatsApp. You want it or not, the instant messaging app will now move towards a different dimension, where it will focus on monetisation, if not by making the app a paid one, through offering the businesses a platform for sure. However, with the new fiasco, WhatsApp will find it difficult to regain the users’ trust that it has lost in the last couple of days.

While messages would remain secure with the end-to-end encryption, the user data on WhatsApp could fall prey to Facebook’s attempt of building tighter cross-platform integration, through data sharing. These data could be used for targeted and precise advertising. Also, there is no assurance that there won’t be further changes to the terms of use in the coming future.

Also Read: Looking for better privacy? Here are WhatsApp alternative apps Telegram and Signal

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