What’s Up with WhatsApp’s New Update?

By Thameenah Razeek | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 16 2021
Columns What’s Up  with WhatsApp’s New Update?

By Thameenah Razeek

The popular messaging service application WhatsApp recently made an announcement that made millions of its users think twice about continuing to use the platform. The announcement said a new update will make the messaging app share data with Facebook. If users don’t accept the new terms of the update, they will no longer be able to use the app. So is it time for the WhatsApp users to run for the hills or is it really as bad as it sounds? 

The popular instant messaging application owned by Facebook dominated the messaging space for years. According to reports, Facebook might consolidate its messaging platforms which are Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram into one central ‘platform’.

It’s all about a change in Policy 

Last week, WhatsApp informed users of an update in its terms of service and privacy policy regarding how it processes user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the social Media giant’s products.

It also stated that users will have to agree to the new terms and policy by 8 February, in order to continue using WhatsApp. This kick-started a spate of conversations on the internet over WhatsApp’s alleged sharing of user information with Facebook. Many users have also started shifting to rival platforms like Telegram and Signal.

Simply said, users who don’t accept these changes will be banished from the platform for good.

Most users got a pop-up on their WhatsApp last week about an update in the privacy policy. Upon reading it, many understood what WhatsApp and Facebook are trying to do. Many including the billionaire tycoon Elon Musk started pointing out drawbacks in the updated privacy policy and recommended a diverse of mobile messaging application.

The updated privacy policy urged users to ‘agree’ to share data that collects about you, such as your phone number and location with Facebook by 8 February or else lose access to their accounts. This data will be shared with the broader Facebook network, such as Instagram and Messenger, and applies regardless of whether you have accounts or profiles there.

The option to share data with Facebook has existed on the app for years, but up until now, it was only an option.

The terms now clearly state that ‘WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate and market services.

When a user forwards Media within a message, WhatsApp stores that Media temporarily in encrypted form on their servers to aid in more efficient delivery of additional forwards.

Even though they offer end-to-end encryption WhatsApp said that the messages are encrypted to protect against WhatsApp and third parties from reading them. End-to-end encryption means that your messages are encrypted to protect against the mobile application and third parties from reading them.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy says that when users sign up for ‘third-party services or other Facebook Company Products integrated with their Services, those third-party services may receive information about what you or others share with them’.

In other words when you sign up for this service, information such as IP address may be provided to the third-party in question or to another product owned by Facebook. So, technically, WhatsApp has now chosen to elaborate further on what it means by ‘data sharing’

WhatsApp recently launched WhatsApp Business, which allows businesses to contact and communicate with customers through its app. This could include making purchases through the app, or businesses contacting you, sending you order confirmations, flight tickets and event tickets. 

The giant messaging platform also upgraded itself by adding a new shopping feature to its app as the Facebook-owned instant messaging service looks to Court more merchants and invite a larger portion of its two billion user bases to shop.

The platform, where business accounts already process messages from more than 175 million people, said it is adding carts to WhatsApp around the world ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Carts are aimed at making it easier for consumers to buy multiple items from a business, and for merchants to keep a better track of order inquiries and manage requests. WhatsApp said it is adding the new feature after early positive response from some businesses that tested it recently.

WhatsApp answering your questions about its Privacy Policy

However, after the huge social Media outcry WhatsApp managed to come forward and make a statement about the whole alleged privacy breach that is hoped to be happened after 8 February. Facebook-owned WhatsApp is now in damage control mode in the wake of widespread criticism from users over its updated privacy policy. 

WhatsApp recently stated that they received many thoughtful questions regarding the privacy policy updated recently. With rumours going around, they wanted to answer some of the common questions they received. 

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.

Nevertheless, in the recent official statement, the messenger application said that the data-sharing practices with Facebook have not changed. The organisation mentions that changes in the policy will come into effect from next month that is 8 February 2021, and the data sharing will happen between Facebook Business and WhatsApp Business accounts. People who use this medium for instant messaging and not for business purposes will remain unaffected.

The public statement regarding the privacy matter also noted that:

“To further increase transparency, we updated the privacy policy to describe that going forward businesses can choose to receive secure hosting services from our parent company Facebook to help manage their communications with their customers on WhatsApp. Though of course, it remains up to the user whether or not they want to message with a business on WhatsApp”

“We are communicating directly with users through WhatsApp about these changes so they have time to review the new policy over the course of the next month,” the statement added. 

Since WhatsApp had these significant privacy issues, many users did not feel like being a part of the vast Facebook linked ecosystem. This paved the way for many alternatives to WhatsApp to come up. Some of them are Signal, Discord, Tox, Element, Threema, Telegram, Skype, Google Hangouts, Viber, WeChat, Line, KaKao Talk, Wire, Kik, Kontalk, Snapchat, IM+, Voxer, Slack, Highside, Wimo, Nimbuzz and FortKnoxster.  

Musk Vs Zuckerberg Feud

For over four years, Musk and Zuckerberg have clashed over topics as varied as artificial intelligence and rockets.

The two moguls, one of whom leads Tesla and SpaceX and the other of whom leads Facebook, haven’t exactly kept their rivalry a secret. When a SpaceX rocket explosion destroyed a Facebook satellite in 2016, Zuckerberg issued a heated statement saying he was ‘deeply disappointed’ about SpaceX’s failure. And when Facebook became embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Musk publicly deleted his companies’ Facebook pages, tweeting that the company gave him ‘the willies’.

In a heated situation regarding the Zuckerberg owned messaging application, the founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and now the richest man in the world, Musk recommended to his followers through a simple and straightforward tweet that they use Signal. After this statement, the number of the application has skyrocketed and more than 100,000 users have downloaded it from the Apple and Google application stores, in the last two days, according to Sensor Tower data.

In fact, a large number of requests caused the platform to crash momentarily and the verification codes for its download were delayed, however, it was solved quickly and users “should no longer have problems joining”. 

Ex Co-founder of WhatsApp and Executive chairman of the Signal Foundation Brian Acton told in an interview that he finds WhatsApp’s new privacy policy ‘very confusing’ and ‘hard to follow’.

Acton co-founded WhatsApp with Jan Koum and sold it to Facebook for USD 19 billion in 2014. He left the company over concerns about commercial messaging and monetisation.

Personal Data Protection Bill

The Sri Lankan former Ministry of Digital Infrastructure and Information introduced the final draft of the Personal Data Protection Bill, modifying the previously released Data Protection Framework. Key pieces of the proposed legislation, introduced 24 September 2019, include regulating the processing of personal data, strengthening rights of data subjects and regulating the dissemination of unsolicited messages using personal data. When ratified, the bill will be implemented in stages, with the full law taking effect within three years from the date it is certified.

Even though the final draft started preparing in 2019, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice M.M.P.K. Mayadunne said the bill has not yet been finalised as it was delayed due to the sudden change in Government and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As Sri Lanka is set to enable 5G transmission in 2021, the need for comprehensive privacy legislation is heightened. A large amount of data sent over current mobile networks is not encrypted or if it is, leverages outdated and easily by-passable encryption methods and are therefore susceptible to interception.

The need for cyber security and data protection becomes more urgent with the onset of e-government services in Sri Lanka. The risk of fraud and identity theft increases, along with the risk of cyber attacks. 

WhatsApp Stats – Highlights

•     WhatsApp has 68.1 million users in the United States. 

•    There are more than 2 billion WhatsApp users in 180 countries. 

•     Over 2 billion minutes of voice and video calls are made on WhatsApp on a daily basis. 

•    Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $ 19 billion six years ago.

•    1 billion people use WhatsApp every day.

•    Users spend approximately 195 minutes on WhatsApp each week.

•     27% of all selfies are shared through WhatsApp or text messaging.

•    WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world.


By Thameenah Razeek | Published: 2:00 AM Jan 16 2021

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