The issue with WhatsApp updates
By Joel Mandaza
WhatsApp, the largest instant messaging platform in the world with over two billion users last week had its first major shock when users threatened a mass exodus from the platform.
The reaction by users, came as a surprise to Facebook Inc, the owners of the platform as they appeared to be too big to fail with around two billion users.
Rival apps enjoyed good numbers as people quickly sought alternatives.
Signal, who is the source of WhatsApp’s end to end encryption protocol had 20 million users in December 2020. They saw their numbers rise to more than 500 million.
Signal has received an endorsement from tech business owners like Jack Dorsey, Edward Snowden and Elon Musk.
Why are people all of a sudden skeptical of WhatsApp?
On December 2, 2020 WhatsApp announced that they were going to adjust their terms of service.
The changes which were supposed to kick in on February 8, 2021 -but have been put on hold following backlash – were interpreted by users as a reneging act from the assumed safety that the platform was believed to have.
Sharing user data with Facebook
WhatsApp is owned by Facebook Inc, a powerful digital media conglomerate which also happens to run Facebook and Instagram.
The new privacy update, set to build on what is already the case, the sharing of user data between platforms to allow more focused advertisements on Instagram or Facebook.
WhatsApp will be analysing your purchases, financial information, location and contact information. It will also analyse your contacts, content, identifiers, usage data, and diagnostics to better craft adverts that speak to your needs.
So, for instance, if the content and conversations you follow the most on WhatsApp have to do with sport, it means that your algorithm on Instagram will be dominated by sportswear.
WhatsApp remains free, as a platform. But the revenue comes from the cross-pollination it enjoys with other social networks owned by the conglomerate.
This is not exactly a new phenomenon. WhatsApp has always shared basic information with Facebook but in this latest update, there are intentions of taking things a notch higher to include one’s phone model, your network, battery health, payment details, transactions (WhatsApp pay) and operating system.
It is with this change that people are worried.
In the era where large communication companies are accused of conspiring with political powers and security agencies, especially around election time people had every reason to be paranoid.
Though WhatsApp argues that people’s chats were safe, the major leap appears to be unsettling many, who also want to avoid being targeted aggressively by global corporations.
Removal of consent governing information sharing
In July 2020, WhatsApp introduced information sharing, but they left the option to operationalise that function.
One could choose whether or not they would like their information shared with Facebook or Instagram. And even with other affiliate third party platforms.
In the impending update, it is no longer an option, for one to be able to continue using WhatsApp they have to accept their conditions for information sharing regardless of whether they are amenable to the terms or not.
For those who are conscious about how their data is handled, they are concerned on why the platform is seeking to corner its users into agreeing terms they may not be comfortable with.
A checkered image
The contributing factor to the resistance is that Facebook does not exactly have the requisite goodwill in the tech industry at the moment.
Right now Facebook is faced with dozens of twin antitrust lawsuits from dozens of states in America.
There is argument that Facebook is growing too big to be regulated and it’s a possible source of future problems.
In addition to those woes, Facebook in 2015 was involved in a huge political scandal around the US Election and the Brexit Campaign.
Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, (in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches), and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
It was found out that the company (Facebook) in late 2015 knew what was happening with their data in the hands of Cambridge Analytica and the Trump Campaign but they failed to alert users.
The skepticism around Facebook has complicated things for WhatsApp. The update from explanations given by the platform shows that the updates may not be as damaging as earlier interpreted. But there are a lot of grey areas in big-tech. And the security-conscious do not seem to want to take chances when there are seemingly safer alternatives.
Facebook shuts down Ugandan Government
Facebook has never shied away from venturing into the political field. Last week, it shut down accounts linked to the Ugandan government a few days before elections.
The company said the Ministry of Information in Uganda, “The ministry used the fake accounts to “manage pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular than they were.”
It’s unknown whether this level of interference will extend to WhatsApp and those with a keen political eye are concerned.
Whatsapp has reached out to users seeking to explain its changes. They have extended the update deadline by three months.
It remains to be seen what will become of the instant messaging platform as people are beginning to cast doubts.
The issue with WhatsApp updates