You might have missed the message that popped up on your screen as you signed into WhatsApp recently — or you might simply have checked ‘OK’ to the changes to its terms and conditions — but there are repercussions now to the amendments proposed by WhatsApp.
By February 8, unless you accept those updated terms and conditions, you may be shut out of the messaging service that is enjoyed by more than a billion users the world over. It’s by far the world’s most popular messaging system, had some 78 million downloads in November, and in India alone more than 400 million use the service and that number grows by the day.
Given these types of numbers, its ease of use and popularity, any change to terms and conditions is significant — this one more so. Because WhatsApp is owned by Facebook — the social media platform purchased it from founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum in 2014 for $19 billion (Dh69.7 billion) — the new changes now mean that your personal data could be shared with its parent company.
Given what has happened in recent years to users’ data, how it was collected, farmed and used, there are obvious concerns now about this move.
But this also raises a far more basic question about your data and personal details. They are yours and should remain so. Certainly, one of the attractions in signing up to WhatsApp and using it multiple times daily for most people, is that it pledged to keep your details private — that they wouldn’t be shared with anyone else. The new terms and conditions raise many questions.
A number of governments and privacy advocates globally have taken issue with Facebook and WhatsApp about this new proposed relationship — and rightly so. We all have a basic right to privacy, regardless of the whims of the owners and merger conditions of these technology companies.
The issue of personal privacy is compounded by the sheer size of Facebook and its reach globally. It is used daily by a billion people, and has more than 2 billion users. Its ability to shape events too is huge, yet it shuns any responsibility for the spread of false information and fake news.
A good first step now towards curbing the power of Facebook would be for governments and privacy regulators to halt this sharing of information from WhatsApp. Otherwise, the case for breaking up Facebook grows far stronger.