Telegram founder Pavel Durov recently called the move away from WhatsApp “the largest digital migration in human history” as millions of WhatsApp users migrated to “overnight” popular alternatives such as Signal and Telegram. This digital migration was precipitated by
It can be argued that the dramatic response by consumers to WhatsApp’s proposed changes is reflective of the increased awareness by consumers of their privacy rights. There is also an overall concern, one can say, regarding the abuse and increased infringements of privacy rights due to unauthorised collection of personal information.
It is important therefore to closely examine what the proposed changes will mean for the consumer.
WhatsApp introduced end-to-end encryption, which prevented WhatsApp from storing messages once they had been delivered. This enabled the privacy of chats to be protected by ensuring that messages and videos shared between users could not be read by WhatsApp or independent third parties.
However, WhatsApp still had access to information such as profile pictures, statuses and user contacts. Importantly, the policy required the express consent of the user to share information with the other entities in the Facebook group of companies, through ‘opt-out’ option. From a privacy perspective, this feature was important, as it allowed the consumer to retain the option not to share their WhatsApp user account information with Facebook without express prior consent.
Some important changes requiring careful consideration by consumers and the Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013 (“POPIA”) regulator pertain to: (i) the intra-group sharing of information among the Facebook group of companies; and (ii) use of the shared information by the companies. Furthermore, WhatsApp will broaden the scope of the information to be collected to include device specific information, information about how users are messaging, calling, which WhatsApp groups users are part of, etc. and in countries where users are able to make payment via WhatsApp, information on transactions and payment data will also be collected. However, it is important for consumers to understand that chats between consumers will continue to be protected by end-to-end encryption.
Accordingly, it would be necessary for the regulator to ensure that, at Facebook Group level, adequate systems will be in place to ensure the proper collection, processing, storage and sharing of personal information.
Noluthando Moledi and Lebogang George, Tumbo Scott Incorporated