RIP Privacy, WhatsApp is Our New Mom


RIP Privacy, WhatsApp is Our New Mom

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Indian moms know everything. What you like, what you dislike, when you’re angry, when you’ve screwed up and especially where the socks are. Moms are the OG databases of the world, collecting all information and then using it at the right moment. However, soon we are going to have a new mom – WhatsApp.

On Monday, WhatsApp updated its privacy policy and terms of service, expanding how the messaging platform will share data with other Facebook-owned and third-party apps. Status, group names and icons, frequency and duration of activities, and whether a user is online will all continue to be held by WhatsApp. Simply put, it’s like your mom knowing where you are, with whom, for how long, and what you did on that Goa trip where you’d gone for an “industrial visit”.

WhatsApp will also collect data from the new payment feature, including processing method, transactions, and shipment data. It will also share location, device model, operating system, battery level, and browser details. Like your mom, it basically peeks into your wallet while you are asleep or scans through your bank statement to ask you later what is Tinder Gold and why have you spent ₹2,699 on it. And just like your mom, it will now know more about you than you know about yourself.

WhatsApp has already started setting conditions for users, stating that if they refuse to share data with Facebook, then they will have to quit WhatsApp. The updated terms help third-party apps to exploit user personal data to push both products and even potentially, propaganda. Just like your mom sneakily stalks your Instagram stories and asks dad (who you have blocked) whether he knows who is “that girl” in the picture, third party apps will now have access to your data and will use it for commercial gains. The alarm bells have rung among data privacy activists.

It is extremely important that data privacy of WhatsApp users is protected.

“There is a lack of independent third-party assessment with regard to what and how much data is being used. The privacy policy lacks clarity and fails to shed light on how data from Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram is being combined, and who it is being made available to. A judicial enquiry is likely to help users find answers to questions regarding Facebook’s data collection practice,” said Apar Gupta, executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital liberties organisation.

WhatsApp is big in India, one hardly knows a person who isn’t on the platform. It is extremely important that data privacy of users is protected. The costs of spreading fake news are well known, leading to even riots in many cases. Lax data privacy rules will force users to shift platforms. Thousands of users have already deleted WhatsApp and moved to Signal, after a recommendation by Elon Musk on Twitter. Telegram has been another app that has seen a lot of migration post the policy update by WhatsApp.

However, the issue is larger than just one platform or one app. Government regulators will have to inspire confidence among users that their private data is safe and will not be used for nefarious purposes. Depending on all platforms to act in good faith might not be the wisest idea and data protection laws will have to come in sooner rather than later. Everyone’s mom is dear to them, we don’t need another one now in the digital space.