For those of you who are not aware of what is going on, WhatsApp, in its new policy update, will require its users in India to give consent to share their information with Facebook Companies. Failure to do so will result in the inability to use the messaging service and the account will be inaccessible. These updates are expected to take effect in the first week of February 2021.
So, What Exactly Does it Entail?
In short, WhatsApp will collect and share your account information, your connections, your status, transactions and payment data, usage and log details, device details, IP address, and location data with its partner companies. This information, in turn, will be used to enhance the user experience and services across Facebook Company Products.
For example, if you booked a flight ticket, you may receive updates about your upcoming trip. Similarly, if you made a purchase, you may get information on its delivery date or see relevant ads for the same product on Facebook or any other partner service/platform.
With that, you may also get suggestions and personalized content tailored to you. Again, this will vary from person to person and will be driven largely by your data harvested by the Facebook-owned messaging company.
Why all the Fuss?
These updates have left no room for privacy or control over the information shared with WhatsApp. The messaging service is essentially calling all the shots here, and failure to comply with their new updates will lead to account deactivation.
This strong-arm approach has not been received well by many Indians, a majority of whom are now seeking data protection laws similar to the GDPR in Europe.
The General Data Protection Regulation is the set of laws that protect consumer information and respect their privacy with regards to sharing information online. As per this law, Europeans have a definite say and control in how their information is to be shared with other businesses online. The regulation also requires businesses to protect personal data and privacy of the EU citizens. There is a defined, legal framework here that sets down guidelines for data collection and processing, emphasising privacy and protecting the users.
For this reason, WhatsApp cannot implement this kind of an update in Europe – they are bound by law to maintain the integrity and privacy of their user information. In other words, WhatsApp cannot share the personal data of its European userbase with Facebook Group of Companies (unlike India).
Even online betting sites, local blogs, and other platforms are starting to migrate from WhatsApp to other, more secured services like Telegram to communicate with their followers.
Shane Hand, editor-in-chief & site manager at one such website stated: “I’m sure many of you have received the same updated terms from WhatsApp.This seems like a standard procedure at this stage. But once you actually dissect this content, you’ll quickly realise that this is different. By accepting it, you are effectively handing over a lot of your personal data to Facebook’s property. I don’t know about you, but this made me feel very uneasy. We have since removed all WhatsApp integration from our site in favour of Telegram.”
What can be done?
From a legal standpoint, the Personal Data Protection Bill was tabled in the Indian parliament but to little avail. However, it may be reasonable to expect some development on that front, now that the debate and necessity for such a framework have been reignited.
In the meantime, WhatsApp alternatives like Signal and Telegram will continue to see a big surge in downloads. Ultimately, what we need is an assurance that our data is collected in a fair manner and will not be transferred elsewhere without our permission. This is something that can be implemented only with the help of a definite law.