Moving slowly and steadily into the lives of the common people, gathering information, exploiting privacy, Mark Zuckerberg has finally exposed what was being whispered behind closed doors with the recent WhatsApp update. People have since long accused Facebook and its various other platforms for exploiting user data and sharing unauthorised information.
However, with this newest Whatsapp update, the hushed whispers cease to remain ‘hushed’. Zuckerberg’s intent of exploiting the privacy of the people becomes clearer as he comes up with a new ‘take it or leave it’ policy.
Whatsapp has recently updated its user policy, which gives the platform the right to share user’s information with Facebook and other third-party apps. What is worse about this new policy is that the new update comes with a condition that if the user refuses to share data with Facebook, they will have to quit WhatsApp. In other words, the messaging application is forcing the users to accept a policy which exploits their personal data.
Since the time Zuckerberg has bought WhatsApp in 2014, constant attempts have been made to integrate it with the Facebook platform. With 340 million users, India is, by far, the largest market for the messaging platform.
While most users will ignore this stipulation, it is pertinent to note that status, group names, icons, frequency and duration of activities, location, device model, operating system, battery level, browser details and whether a user is online will be collected by the app. What is more concerning is that the fact that even the data from the new payment feature, including processing method, transactions and shipment data will be collected. Surely the collection of this amount of unauthorised information infringes the right to privacy of an individual, but it seems that Zuckerberg is indifferent.
Earlier in July, when WhatsApp had first introduced this policy, they had made it optional for the people to choose if they wanted to have their information shared with Facebook. The guidelines said, “If you are an existing user, you can choose not to have your WhatsApp account information shared with Facebook to improve Facebook ads and products experiences.” However, this has now been removed in the recent update.
At this development, Apar Gupta, executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital liberties organisation, said that the updated WhatsApp terms will help Facebook and connected third-party apps to exploit user data for commercial gain, including personal data, breaching user’s privacy. He also said, “There is a lack of independent third-party assessment with regard to what and how much data is being used.”
Commenting on this, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has suggested in a tweet that users should switch to the Signal app, which is a cross-platform encrypted messaging app.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 7, 2021
It is indeed troubling for the 340 million Indian users to have their data exploited for the commercial gains and vested interests of certain individuals like Mark Zuckerberg. What is more, most of the Indian users are not technologically educated enough to understand the implications of the recent WhatsApp update. The lack of a comprehensive data protection committee in India also further deepens the issue.