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WhatsApp Policy: A Rumor or A Façade?

Written By Sashwat Gupta

WhatsApp Policy: A Rumor or A Façade?

 

Since the inception of social media into the worldly affairs, it has got millions of people on their fingertips to spend a very significant amount of time from their lives. Modern technology has embarked on a journey that is seemingly taking the world to a much-advanced level of understanding, but at what cost? At the cost of privacy?

WhatsApp is becoming a major part of our everyday lives, millions of people and thousands of businesses have this application as it is one of the most basic elements. With the introduction of new features such as ‘payment options’ & ‘live location’ which ensure high utility, people are now completely dependent on this application without ever realizing its ramifications.

What is exactly is the issue?

Recently, WhatsApp made some groundbreaking decisions hampering the privacy of millions and even more which have invited masses to boycott it, some communities even have requested to put up a ban on the use of this application in the country and explore more ‘secluded social media’ options. The main question which arises here is ‘What is this “decision” that made people so strenuous?’ The new update provides that the user data could be used for providing “additional information” or targeting “user-friendly advertisements” which resulted in opinions being circulated all over the globe regarding privacy invasion by the parent company. Some people even pointed out a specific point in the policy stating that even if the user do not share their location, WhatsApp may use their IP addresses and other information to estimate the general location (city/country) while some were infuriated by the fact that there is no choice given to the user, either the user has to accept the new policy or has to stop using the application. These opinions worked as a cherry-on-the-cake for the anti-trust allegations on the parent company. Moreover, the policy states that, in the context of false news and hate speech, the application would be putting up a ‘BAN’ on any user without any intimation which is doubtful since it can confuse a lot of people whether or not if they were ever involved in such activities.

Statistics show that almost 2Billion people use WhatsApp and as of February 2020, there were around 96 Million downloads globally. From the common man to the top-notch celebrities, WhatsApp is an integral part of almost all smartphones, even after such a huge success, there have always been privacy issues that were never addressed. In the words of The Wall Street Journal “if any of the communication is business-related then WhatsApp, or other consumer messaging apps, cannot and must not be used”, since then a lot of messaging apps have been competing with WhatsApp in terms of privacy and social connections.

With the introduction of apps like Telegram & Signal, there has been a shift of interest in regards to privacy concerns as these apps do not involve any hefty measures or rigid policies as those of WhatsApp.

What is WhatsApp’s take on this issue?

But as the contention continue to spread like a wildfire, WhatsApp recently came up with a rather vivid point of view. It clarified that in some conditions, business messages — “different than messaging with your family or friends” — can be read by Facebook and could be used for marketing purposes. The latest clarification brings in what seems like the differentiation between “messages with friends or family” and “messages with a business”. Only a certain amount of information will be sent to Facebook to create personalize ads we see on Facebook.

WhatsApp also clarified that it collects only connection-specific information which means information regarding battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, etc.  It follows a strict rule of end-to-end encryption, which means once the sender’s message has been received, it would be immediately deleted from the company’s server without the interference of a ‘middleman’.

 

But there were cross opinions raised on this clarification as well:

  1. Are the chat backups encrypted?

 As of now there hasn’t been any clarification regarding the encryption of chat backups and exports of chat, even after several popular articles mentioning the same.

  1. Can we revoke our information from the servers?

WhatsApp handles around 10 Million+ connections in a single go, revoking some specific user data from the servers might cost the company since they would have to hunt for a specific record every time such user requests are entertained, which seems next to impossible contemplating to the present generation of technology.

  1. Can we trust this concept of ‘end-to-end encryption’?

Experts suggests that like the parent company, WhatsApp might be able to adopt the concept of ‘wiretapping’ through which it is possible to circumvent this encryption.

These and a lot of other questions still remain unanswered from a credible and a reputed platform like WhatsApp.

 

How will it affect the masses?

Every second WhatsApp is trying to obtain more and more user data such as financial details, live location, phone book, call logs, gallery information, transaction status etc. which is being sent to the parent company for further processing, this could prove to be disastrous since the data would be used by multiple apps for various purposes. As Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) states “It will cause much disturbance when WhatsApp can collect data about usage, the kind of phone user is using and his location. Though new terms, WhatsApp will also access the bank account of the user. Not only this but WhatsApp will know what user is paying and to whom and other related details like what is purchased, location access.”  This data might be useful to mega tech companies but it manipulates the sole purpose of social media itself, hindering the process of bringing the world closer safely and securely. While some also believe that WhatsApp is still a reliable source in terms of social media and people should not engage in random opinions since they are composed without any proper research and distributing a blank idea of the actual reality

 

Conclusion

As the world of technology moves forward, there is a need to take a stand for the privacy concerns taking all over the globe, not just WhatsApp but all of the social media from its core. Change is an essentiality of growth. Large businesses are shifting towards the new era of social media, dynamic approaches are being adopted and with that pace, the society is turning into a dystopia with a façade of ‘Development & Growth’.

 

Written By

Sashwat Gupta

United World School of Law

 

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