What’s the furore over WhatsApp?

Many fear ‘loss of privacy’ as new updates in its ‘Terms of service’ kicks up controversy

By   |  Published: 13th Jan 2021  12:30 am
Representational image

Hyderabad: WhatsApp is an integral part of communication, from between friends, colleagues and teams to schools, resident associations and families too. However, the recent changes in its Terms of Service have kicked up a furore, with many, fearing ‘loss of privacy’, shifting to other apps like Telegram and Signal.

“WhatsApp is asking people to voluntarily give away their privacy or stop using the app which is outright violation of privacy of users. Facebook must have had access to all the information on WhatsApp all throughout as well (from 2014) but they are making it legal and asking us to consent them invading into the user’s phones through different apps at once,” said Jhanvi Ramachandran, 25, a professional photographer.

Giving a glimpse of how data sharing might affect users, Moulika Bhavana, 23, a software engineering graduate shared: “While WhatsApp has access to your contacts and collects information on your location (if permitted), this information can be used by Facebook to direct the user to people from their contacts available on Facebook. Also, even if WhatsApp claims to be end-to-end encrypted, this update might give the third party an access to our information. In a nutshell, it’s like giving all access to your contact details, card details (if using WhatsApp Pay), location details and activity details with all due consent to Facebook.”

On the contrary, some find this update for businesses helpful when compared to other applications.

“WhatsApp has been very convenient for businesses – in terms of posting status about products, direct communication with customers etc. I can also attach my website link along with a catalogue with pictures, for my customers to directly check my products,” said Mohana Sree, 24, who sells jewellery through WhatsApp.

As Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, the data could be accessed by the company. However, the secret has just come to open, said Nag Rudra, 23, a business enthusiast from the city. “Presently, India does not have any interface app alternatives of its own like Russia and China does. So, we are dependent on others for communication convenience. So there is no point boycotting something without a better alternative,” Nag added.

“The company is just going to track some key words for better convenience of the user in respect to what ad suggestions he or she gets or guide the users to reach what they are searching for quickly. This happens not only in Facebook or WhatsApp, but also while a general search in Google,” Nag explained.

India’s Zoho is launching a new messaging app, called Arattai (chit-chat in Tamil) soon.

The Changes
Here’s what WhatsApp says:

“We collect information about your activity on our services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity… the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions, log files. This also includes information… like messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features, profile photo, ‘about’ information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your ‘last seen’)…”

Is the update safe?

The price of convenience, as they say, is ‘privacy’. The convenience of having everything at your fingertips might require some information from your personal life.
Until now, different apps required information to operate but were not interconnected. Now, all these are being taken together to reach a single company – Facebook.

Finding alternatives

Signal, set up by former WhatsApp co-founder Brien Acton, has become a popular alternative.
Signal has been trending after the WhatsApp update controversy.

The firm claims that no data is shared, that nobody can take screenshots of chat messages and old messages disappear automatically.
There are no unsecured backups to cloud.

Telegram is another good alternative, but does not offer end-to-end encryption.

It has a secret chat feature, self-destructing messages etc, but users say it’s not as secure as Signal.

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