Safety of phone data a concern after Whatsapp’s privacy issues


The widely used messaging platform – Whatsapp faced trust crisis this week over an update to its privacy policy. The update to its privacy policy “transparently” explained how Whatsapp shared user data with Facebook when a customer interacts with a business on its platform.

The updated policy reads –“WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook Companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate” and market services.

While the “shares information” part raised big privacy concerns and put Whatsapp in the middle of a storm the recently acquired Facebook company 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.

Through its clarification Whatsapp wants to differentiate between “messages with friends or family” and “messages with a business”. The new policy it says pertains to “messages with business”. It says while “messages with friends or family” will not be affected by the change in policy, the same will not be the case with business messaging.

Whatsapp says that some “large businesses need to use hosting services to manage their communication”. These businesses use “secure hosting services” from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers, answer questions, and send helpful information like purchase receipts”.

“But whether you communicate with a business by phone, email, or WhatsApp, it can see what you’re saying and may use that information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook.” However, WhatsApp says it will “clearly label conversations with businesses that are choosing to use hosting services from Facebook”.

For users, the admission that Whatsapp can “see” and “use” information is enough to cause them concern – no matter the information is seen only by business chat users. If Whatsapp can read business chats it can also read the “private” chats with friends and family ­­– would remain the only notion affixed to the user’s mind.

A common user in India may not be worried about how and in what way the information is being seen or read as long as he gets to video chat, send/receive messages/images and make “clarity” voice calls during a time when “data is the new mine” so long as the annoying adverts, uninvited messages are not seen. But others too who are turning to other apps over privacy concerns should still remain concerned over how an app uses and shares their data. Almost all apps seek permission to read user contacts data, get access to files, etc. before letting the user operate that app. Sometimes that data may be essential for the app to operate. But still users concerned over privacy must remain cautious of what information they share. Data theft is as easy as sharing messages on apps.

The whole episode is the result of Facebook – whatsapp’s parent company – monetising the platform by making it useful for businesses.

Though Whatsapp or for that matter any other app says “the chat is end-to-end encrypted” the messaging platform/s may not be totally trusted because Whatsapp had similarly also told EU regulators that it technically wasn’t possible to combine WhatsApp data with its other services. But it looks all’s possible. One hasn’t forgotten whatsapp’s “spygate” scandal over the Indian elections.





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