As millions of its once two-billion-strong users abandon the Facebook chat app, many of its less tech-savvy users (this reporter included) are still reeling with confusion.
Digital rights campaigner and author Murray Hunter believes if there’s been any confusion about WhatsApp and Facebook’s privacy policies, it’s WhatsApp and Facebook who should take the blame, not ordinary users.
“Facebook/WhatsApp will implement these changes specifically for any chats with a WhatsApp business account – when you use your personal WhatsApp to send a message to your local pizza place, which has a WhatsApp business account, WhatsApp will consider that a business message. When you and I chat on WhatsApp using our personal accounts, it’s considered a private message,” Hunter says, adding that WhatsApp insists that the content of these messages will still be private.
“WhatsApp already collects way too much data about its users and has ducked and dived about how much of that information it shares with its parent company Facebook,” he says.
When Facebook first bought the app in 2014, it assured users their data would remain private and not be shared with Facebook. In 2016, WhatsApp began sharing data with Facebook by default, however, users could opt out of the data sharing. The upcoming changes remove this option to opt-out.
Murray explains while the content of WhatsApp messages is still secure and private, for years WhatsApp has been collecting lots of other data about its users: who you are, who your contacts are, what groups you are in, how you interact with other users.
“All this info together creates a very detailed picture about who you are. It’s not clear how much of this has been shared with Facebook or might be shared sometime in the future.
“A company that cares about privacy doesn’t act like this,” he says.
The regulator said it would engage with Facebook after the completion of the analysis. No further information has been released to date. Murray says Popia, which comes into place in July this year, could be a positive development. “But it will take more than regulation to fix the problems with big tech and privacy. For every privacy lawyer in government or a watchdog body, Facebook and WhatsApp will hire 10 lawyers,” he says.
“Signal works just like WhatsApp, and offers top encryption on all its messages, but collects almost no information about its users. It’s actually a non-profit foundation, so they’re not looking to make money off your private data,” Murray says.