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Of Privacy, Fineprint and Unholy Alliances

So many of us use Whatspp in our daily ‘conversations’ that we were bound to notice the message the chat service started to display in early January.

I did not read it because I knew it was going to involve some vague obscure language that inevitably meant to say, “We have your data and we are going to use it.”

There was no two ways about it, and those who did not agree would have their Whatsapp account deleted after the stipulated deadline of February 8. (Maybe, there is more messaging in the fineprint, but…… and therein lies the problem – the fineprint. More about this later).

There were those who rationalised the concerns away. Some are sharing messages about the advantages of Whatsapp as a messaging service ie. it may make your data transparent to Facebook, but ultimately it is Secure.

Techies who understand and support notions like privacy are appalled, and they make up a majority of the mass exodus response to what Facebook wants to do with Whatsapp data.

Ultimately, tens of thousands if not more, have abandoned Whatsapp, or at least downloaded another service.

The rest just followed what their friends and family did. They had to find an alternative, and they had to find it fast.

Interestingly, their destination was not Telegram, a popular alternative destination in the past few years.

U-turn or delay?

The response from users and the social media sphere is massive. Because it is so huge, Whatsapp has held off implementing their privacy policy update.

At time of writing, India asks Facebook to withdraw this update, and Italy’s data protection agency has triggered a privacy violation warning.

Tech Crunch reports that this Italian agency believes “… it is not possible for Whatsapp users to understand the changes that are being introduced under the new terms, nor to ‘clearly understand which data processing will actually be carried out by the messaging service after February 8.’”

How in heck are regular people supposed to understand convoluted legalese?

On the one hand, the scale of backlash by users in tech, business and government spheres has caused Facebook to delay their policy update to 18th May.

But is it to better clarify the legalese and give users more time to let it sink in? Or is it to gather feedback and make necessary adjustments that are not so privacy invasive.

The answer is the former.

Long story short, any U-turns or delays that Facebook has made with regards to privacy policy, has always been in favour of them collecting more data and sharing more data between Facebook and Whatsapp.

Personal chats with friends, family, and colleagues are encrypted and will likely remain so after 15th May. But, it is the other kinds of data being collected and shared ie. Transaction data, metadata, that is worrisome.

The Quint here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfCpzrSllz0  has a short and snappy video that explains Facebook’s dodgy behaviour.

A wait and see for now

 So, should you ditch Whatsapp?

I don’t know how much of a better alternative Telegam and Signal can be, if they are already alerting me every time one of my contacts joins their platform. Isn’t this privacy invasive as well?

We could say there are many intensity and levels of acts that violate our right to privacy. You have to decide what your threshold is.

The US FTC has sued Facebook last year for its monopolistic practices and Facebook may be forced to divest Whatsapp and Instagram.

IT BYTES BACK! says: I think that charge is not enough and the FTC; as well as many more regulatory bodies around the globe; should sue Facebook and many other social media platforms with big user base. This is for not prioritising user privacy, and certainly also for not giving users the option to opt out of their predatory “privacy” policies.