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WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

In the modern world that we live in today, communication through social media platforms and instant messaging services have become somewhat of a requirement in the average person’s daily life.

We share our lives instantaneously with the push of a button and we discuss important matters over the phone that we may consider to be “sensitive” whether it be with family, friends, or clients.

This is done without much thought as to whether our images, messages, or phone calls have been recorded and shared with third parties.

When downloading any of these applications you are required to sign up and provide certain details such as your name, contact details, and profile picture before being able to use it. Furthermore, the application will require access to your contacts and media in order for you to connect with people, exchange messages, and make phone calls.

Finally, the application will provide you with its privacy policy and request your consent which, lets face it, majority of us accept without reading.

That brings us to the questions at hand: What is WhatsApp’s new privacy policy? Why have people made such a huge deal about it? Most important, should we switch to a different messaging platform such as Telegram or Signal?

Before answering that question, we must first briefly discuss our rights when it comes to privacy.

The Constitution

Section 14 of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides for an express, basic right to privacy and it states that:

“Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have –

(d) the privacy of their communications infringed.”

Furthermore, we are also protected by legislation.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI / POPIA)

The purpose of the POPI Act is to enforce the consequences should a company in South Africa not behave in a responsible way when they collect, process, store and share someone else’s personal information.

POPI Act will hold these companies accountable if they fail to comply with those principles and compromise or misuse your personal information. It should be noted that the POPI Act took effect on the 1st of July 2020 and enforcement will begin on the 1st of July 2021.

It is therefore very clear that we are protected by the law when it comes to the processing of our personal information, messages, and phone calls and any company that infringes our right to privacy, can be held accountable. But why then should we be concerned about WhatsApp’s new privacy policy?

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

When Facebook purchased WhatsApp for 16 billion dollars, everyone assumed that it was because WhatsApp had obtained a substantial amount of information on its users. Information very valuable to the behemoth that is Facebook. Then came WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy which caught most of the world’s attention.

The main issue that people have with WhatsApp’s new privacy policy relates to WhatsApp’s data-sharing procedures with its parent company Facebook. Most users are concerned that the new privacy policy will require the sharing of our information with its parent company. With Facebook’s history, any sane person would be alarmed by this.

But if you have a Facebook account then you probably already shared a great deal of your life with the social platform, which means that if you aren’t phased by the new policy you aren’t particularly crazy either.  

In any event because of this new privacy policy, millions of people decided to download Signal and Telegram the former being endorsed by Elon Musk himself.

WhatsApp released a new FAQ page solely to address users’ concerns in response to this. In a nutshell, they reassure us of the following:

  • The new policy update is related to optional business features on WhatsApp. It provides further transparency about how they collect and use data.
  • WhatsApp cannot see our personal messages or hear our calls, and neither can Facebook.
  • WhatsApp do not keep logs of who we call or message.
  • They do not share our contacts with Facebook and cannot see our shared location and neither can Facebook.
  • Groups on WhatsApp remain private.
  • We can set our messages to disappear from chats after we send them.
  • We can download all information about our account within the app.

It is therefore clear that we shouldn’t be too concerned with WhatsApp’s new policy. Safeguards have been put in place to prevent our information from being shared. Furthermore, should our information be shared illegally we will have a legal right to sue them in court.

Should you switch to Telegram or Signal

If you still feel insecure about continuing to make use of WhatsApp then there are two alternatives that you can start using today. Which one you choose is entirely up to you but keep reading so that you can make an informed decision.

Telegram

Telegram private groups can have up to 200,000 members. That in itself is good enough of a reason to make the switch to Telegram.

However, in Telegram’s privacy policy they say that they may share our personal data with their parent company to help provide, improve, and support their services.

Therefore, we can safely say that in actual fact when it comes to data sharing, Telegram and WhatsApp are fairly similar.

Signal

Signal has been hailed the safest messaging app available today as it uses the open-source Signal Protocol to implement end-to-end encryption. What that means is that all messages are encrypted and they cannot see our messages or phone calls.

However, WhatsApp and Telegram also make use of end-to-end encryption so that in itself shouldn’t be the only reason why you make the change to Signal.

Further, Signal has a few features that makes it stand out from the other 2. One of those features is something called Screen Security. You can go to your privacy settings and enable Screen Security, which will block other apps on your phone from taking screenshots of your chats on Signal.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it seems like Signal might be one of the safest options when it comes to the protection of your information. With that being said, you do carry the risk of having your information shared no matter which social media platform you use, and the best way to guarantee your safety is to disconnect from them all. While you’re at it, build a home somewhere deep in the woods away from civilization.

Article written by Husain Shaik, candidate attorney at Faure & Faure Inc. For more information, email contact@faurefaure.co.za.

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