Social media is not just a spoke on the wheel of marketing. It’s becoming the way entire bicycles are built. That was earlier when we used to get up with the help of an alarm clock. Nowadays social media notification take its place. At a time when we are totally indulge with social media. WhatsApp informing us about the platform’s updated policies (terms of service and privacy), which are mandatory to accept if you want to continue using the app.
“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product” this popular quote from Netflix’s 2020 documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ totally fits on current scenario.
There is no doubt that WhatsApp has penetrated in a way that no other messaging app has managed to and the indoctrination on the platform has increased over the years, both for personal and professional communications. This is why mainstream users have stuck to the platform despite its share of controversies and outrageous practices.
As a matter of fact, that users are left with limited options is Eric. The details are horrible, the update policies have added new sections about Transactions and Payments Data as well as Location Information. It has also made it clear that information and data can be collected and shared with Facebook companies, if WhatsApp believes it is needed.
Probably, this time WhatsApp has gone a bit too far, taking users for granted. It is claiming to collect more data than before including battery level, signal strength, app version, and identifiers unique to Facebook Companies. All of these can be used by not just WhatsApp but also Facebook companies. And, we know that the platforms have been disposed to hacks and data leaks in the past.
WhatsApp wrote,”Our Services have optional features which, if used by you, require us to collect additional information to provide such features. You will be notified of such a collection, as appropriate. If you choose not to provide the information needed to use a feature, you will be unable to use the feature. For example, you cannot share your location with your contacts if you do not permit us to collect your location data from your device. Permissions can be managed through your Settings menu on both Android and iOS devices.”
It’s also the tone that WhatsApp uses in some of its terms that raises a few eyebrows. It says that you need to give access to your location data if you want to continue sharing location with your friends and family. Fair enough, But, it further adds that if you refuse to do so, the platform will anyhow collect information like IP addresses and phone number area code to figure out your location.
A similar tone also reflects in the line where WhatsApp mentions what happens to your data once the account is deleted. It is clearly saying that your data will not be wiped off immediately after deleting your WhatsApp account and users will have to dig deeper for the same. Come on WhatsApp, how many users will actually be able to understand and perform this action specially in India where people just press without even look at the texts.
WhatsApp also explained how much of the data is collected automatically by the messaging app. WhatsApp wrote,“We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports.”
“This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.”
This time WhatsApp has also added a separate section about ‘Transactions And Payments Data’, this section specifies that if the users have used WhatsApp’s payment services or any of its services that are meant for purchases or other financial transactions, the platform will process additional information about them.
It may also include payment account and transaction information, Payment account and transaction information include information needed to complete the transaction.
These policies are also the first time WhatsApp has hinted towards a larger Facebook ecosystem that Mark Zuckerberg talked about during earnings call in October last year. The Facebook CEO had suggested a “connected interoperable system” where WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger app could be used interchangeably.
Is it time to switch?
It isn’t the first time when WhatsApp users are asking this question. Something similar happened a couple of years back when the Facebook-owned platform sued the cybersecurity company NSO for over $75,000 in damages alleging that the Israeli firm illegally used WhatsApp servers to sneak Pegasus into phones belonging to 1,400 users across 20 countries. Several users from India, including journalists, activists, lawyers and senior government officials, were also hit by the attack.
Back then, Telegram had emerged as a possible alternative to WhatsApp. The messaging app became popular by claiming that it offers end-to-end encryption. This means that the conversations can only be seen by the sender and receiver, the platform has grown since then but is dealing with its own set of issues, one of which is piracy.
Telegram is reportedly being used by several notorious users to circulated pirated films and a solution about that is yet to be found. It has also been on the radar for some time over its use for sharing music illegally.
There have been other options too in the past be it WeChat or Hike But, none of these have managed to go past the initial fame, let aside the possibility of competing with WhatsApp, but another factor is that WhatsApp has become more accessible and users have years of chat history on the app which is not easy to save or export to another platform.
So where do we stand now? The next in line is the Signal recently brought to limelight by world’s richest man Elon Musk. Soon after WhatsApp updated its policies, Musk tweeted “Use Signal”. This messaging app has also come to the forefront because of its privacy-focussed approach, It is widely used by the security experts, privacy researchers, academics, and others around the world.
The Bottom line
WhatsApp is no more a noun, it is a verb. Users don’t just say “send it to me on WhatsApp”. The more frequently used phrase is “WhatsApp me”. This is how much dependent most are on the app. Nowadays Relying on the apps to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds. If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it too although criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts. If they know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it.
The responsibility of protecting our privacy isn’t just something that should be left to companies or governments. It’s a personal duty, as much as we cannot count on police forces alone to protect our house, our assets, and our family. We need to lock our doors, install home alarms, and keep our windows closed when we’re out.