What’s Up With The WhatsApp Policy Changes?

The author tries to answer if at all it is necessary to move away from WhatsApp environment and look for alternatives or simply conform to the new norms

Recently, a sense of panic sparked amongst the users when WhatsApp announced changes in their policies about data and privacy, leading few users to migrate to alternate platforms. Elon Musk tweeting that we should move to Signal, only helped trigger this panic further.

So, what are the real issues and is it necessary to move away from WhatsApp environment and will alternative options be safer?

Here are some thoughts on the subject:

1. WhatsApp is a part of the Facebook system and as you navigate across WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, there would be some meta data that was already getting shared, quite likely, from the sheer migration across these platforms. In many ways, the policy was probably intended to get formal sanction on the data sharing!

2. Increasing demands from regulators around transparency perhaps led to the need to take users’ approval.

3. All your Internet activity is tracked to build-up rich data around your profile to serve right content, advertising, e-commerce options etc. That Is the power of digital, and everyone is mining your data for use! WhatsApp, Facebook are not the first, and only ones doing so!

4. You really got to be completely OFF the internet if you’re concerned about your data being shared. But how many of us can do so?

5. The myth that I have read in WhatsApp groups is that due to this new change, our WhatsApp data and our sensitive documents are more likely to fall into wrong hands. That does not sound right.

There is an inherent risk of your data being hacked into, and being accessible to someone if you’re on the internet, as most applications and platforms store data on the cloud, making it vulnerable to an extent. But this WhatsApp policy change does not make your data any more vulnerable to get hacked into!

Hacking has happened on data everywhere and that risk remains in today’s world. I don’t believe that this change is making you any more vulnerable!

6. Remember that Facebook is a publicly listed company with a responsibility towards its users, shareholders, etc. They are not likely to rush into a suicidal move of throwing open their customer data for anyone to hack.

They do have a history of working closely with political advertisers in the past, and if you choose to move away from WhatsApp or Facebook on a matter or principle, that is perfectly okay. But don’t do so because you think that these policy changes have made your data more vulnerable to be abused.

7. Talking about options like Signal, Telegram etc., they certainly look good in a comparison chart and if there are one or more alternatives to challenge WhatsApp, it’s awesome.

WhatsApp has a very huge user base. You are more likely to connect with literally anyone on WhatsApp, than on another platform. Often you need to connect jointly with many people, and for that again, WhatsApp is an ideal choice.

Migrating all the recently boarded less tech savvy people from WhatsApp to entirely new platform will remain a challenge. Hence I am not sure how successful the alternatives will be, in completely weaning users off Whatsapp.

8. Managing a massive messaging platform like WhatsApp is not trivial and it takes a lot of effort to ensure smooth flow of all activities. Translated into lot of highly skilled people, resources etc.

Once you are in this as a platform, you cannot stay put at a level. All the changes need to be done as and when needed and all that calls for huge resources to be constantly deployed on the service.

9. Who’s funding those costs? You want a free service that is ad-free, then how does the platform manage to do that? I cannot see any specific motivation for a corporate to keep funding a messaging platform so that users don’t have to pay subscription fees or see ads! If one has a lot of money and wants to serve humanity, there are many other things to do, than providing a free messaging service!

10. While Telegram or Signal look good currently, as it is not doing as much with your data as WhatsApp is apparently planning to do (or already doing), but, I fear it would only be a matter of time before the alternate platforms also decide to monetize the user data. Since that is the only real asset that the free messaging platform builds out, and to fund its operational activities, it will require to monetize that.

At this time, with all the user pressure and perhaps due to a nudge from the government, Whatsapp has postponed the implementation of the new policy, in India, for now. Whether they give it up totally or tweak the policy to make it more user friendly or come back in some time to enforce this same one, we do not know. However, the overall realization that users need to have is that, when using a free service, you, the user, are clearly the “product” and are being monetized, one or the other way! You need to take necessary care about sharing sensitive information, to ensure against mishaps.

And if you are indeed, extremely concerned about your data privacy, perhaps, you may need to drastically reduce your usage of any Internet based services!

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