WhatsApp’s new policy: A privacy bogey?

June 14, 2021 8:12 AM

The policy has larger implications for data relating to WhatsApp Business accounts than regular accounts

wahtsappBeta users will be able to view video or images that can be seen only once.

By Kanishk Gaur, 

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy has left many unnerved as data privacy has become a significant cause of concern. WhatsApp announced its new data privacy policy in early February and prompted the users to comply with it by February 8, 2021. However, due to an intense public misperception and confusion, WhatsApp eventually delayed the implementation till May 15, 2021 and then agreed to make it implementable post the enactment of the Personal Data Protection Bill in India.

The new WhatsApp privacy policy affects data concerning exchanges with WhatsApp Business accounts and not the regular WhatsApp accounts. Importantly, the policy doesn’t expand WhatsApp’s ability to share data with Facebook.
WhatsApp currently offers three services to the users, namely, WhatsApp (for personal chats), WhatsApp Business (for small service providers and businesses) and WhatsApp API (for integrating the applications of larger organisations and also used by the government). The change in WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy majorly impacts the WhatsApp Business application and not as much the other services. According to the new privacy policy, WhatsApp will share user-data with other Facebook companies only. The general users are under this misconception that WhatsApp will tap into our chats, communications, and media sharing through this metadata and make them public despite all communications continuing to remain end-to-end encrypted. But what is metadata?

Metadata is mostly the data used to identify your device’s general location, IP addresses, time zone, phone model, OS, battery level, signal strength, browser, mobile network, ISP, language, time zone, usage patterns, diagnostic reports (in case your application crashes) and even IMEI. Another common misconception is that as a result of collecting this, WhatsApp will now know who the user is interacting with on its platform, which is an incorrect inference because WhatsApp doesn’t maintain log of the user. It is worth noting that user metadata is not equivalent to personal data, and every other platform collects it to operate smoothly.

Most of the platforms and apps in the market, such as Signal, Telegram, Discord or even the dark web, allow a user to access them while maintaining their anonymity at the same time. The difference in the identification process across platforms generates the need to store user metadata. If a person using any such platform (which does not store any contact information or metadata) gets threatened by another user or extorted for money and goes to the police to file a complaint, the police will try to find the culprit. But, unfortunately, since these apps/platforms do not store any user data, the police and the victim face a dead end. To prevent online crimes, we should ensure that no one can communicate with us while hiding their identity.

A data protection law is the need of the hour and would go a long way in ensuring uniform industry practices that put user privacy and security at the highest level.

Founder, India Future Foundation
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