How WhatsApp’s new privacy policy will affect businesses

Tuesday February 16 2021
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A woman uses a smartphone to communicate. After a backlash from many users across the globe, WhatsApp has since retracted and extended its deadline from February 8th to May 15th to allow users to understand the new policy. PHOTO/courtesy

By Paul Murungi

Have you seen a pop up of your new WhatsApp privacy policy on your phone screen? Was it an inconvenience? Did you simply ‘accept the new rules’? Did you read through the policy?

Well, it is simply a new WhatsApp privacy policy, but why are there hair raising concerns on personal data of its 2 billion users across the globe?

In a number of days since January 4th, WhatsApp, a messaging platform under Facebook has lost some of its loyal users to other messaging platforms in the digital space over what some users term as ‘a controversial new privacy policy’.

The new policy started to appear as a pop up on WhatsApp at the beginning of the year. It seemed like a goose trap that some users fell into, since they felt it was simply a distraction to their daily messaging lives.

However, for those that are tech savvy, it is a concern! And many are asking questions that we shall attempt to answer in this article.

According to the new privacy policy, “Whatsapp is updating its terms and privacy policy. Key updates include more information about; WhatsApp’s service and how we process your data. How businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats. How we partner with Facebook to offer integrations across the Facebook Company products.”

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It further indicates that, “By tapping agree, you accept the new terms and privacy policy, which take effect on February 8, 2021. After this date, you will need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp.”

Shifting to other platforms

However, after a backlash from many users across the globe, WhatsApp has since retracted and extended its deadline from February 8th to May 15th to allow users to understand the new policy.

The policy comes three months after Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg announced on his Facebook page that the social media giant was going to make it easier for people to buy products directly within a chat, and integrating WhatsApp business features with Facebook shops so that way, when a small business sets up a shop, they will be able to establish a commercial presence across Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp at the same time.

 Privacy or no privacy

According to a statement published on the blog.whatsapp.com, the messaging platform maintains that the privacy policy update is business oriented and does not in any way affect private messages shared between friends and family. This means personal conversations will still be protected with end to end encryption, so that neither whatsApp nor Facebook can see these private messages.

WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption is used when you message another person using WhatsApp Messenger. End-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you are communicating with can read or listen to what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because with end-to-end encryption, your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them and all of this happens automatically.

It is all about business

The new privacy policy is largely business oriented according to John Ssenkeezi, a digital marketing strategist.

 He says the change that has happened is on the business side of conversation to merge business chats between WhatsApp and Facebook. This means some businesses using the WhatsApp business App will be able to choose WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, to securely store messages and respond to customers.

“If you’re chatting with WhatsApp Business, then some people now opt to use Facebook’s services to process messages that come to their businesses,” he notes.

However, Ssenkezi still believes just like any other technology entity has access to your personal data, the information can be used in so many ways especially through targeted advertising on Facebook. And the biggest issue is WhatsApp sharing information on Facebook for advertising purposes.

In such a scenario, especially for people who opt to use the Facebook service to process WhatsApp messages for business, Facebook is able to get information about you and the advertiser for marketing purposes.

A little background to this shows that in 2018, Whatsapp introduced a new Whatsapp Business App to help and connect small businesses to its customers. The move was meant to make it easier for businesses to respond to customers, separate customer and personal messages to create an official presence. Over the last two years, new features have been added such as chat list filtering, labels, and quick replies.

Whereas WhatsApp considers chats with businesses that use the WhatsApp Business app to be end-to-end encrypted,  once the message is received, it is subjected to the business’s own privacy practices. The business may designate a number of employees, or even other vendors, to process and respond to the message.

Monetising WhatsApp

As Facebook moves to monetise WhatsApp, there could be a bigger threat to personal data is this business mix. One of its privacy policies, indicates that WhatsApp currently shares certain categories of information with Facebook companies. This include your account registration information (such as your phone number), transaction data, information of you relate with others (including businesses) when using its services, mobile device information including phone number, network, location features such as when you choose to share your location with your contacts, view locations nearby or those others have shared with you and your IP address.

Alternative messaging platforms

Signal

Signal is a cross-platform centralised encrypted messaging service with more than 20 million active users across the globe. It was developed by the Signal Foundation and Signal Messenger. It uses the Internet to send one-to-one and group messages, which can include files, voice notes, images and videos.

Telegram 

Telegram is a freeware, cross-platform, cloud-based instant messaging software and application service with more than 400 million users. The service also provides end-to-end encrypted video calling, file sharing and several other features. Telegram messages are heavily encrypted and can self-destruct.


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