It is common knowledge that social media apps such as Facebook are free because they draw their revenue from advertisers. Advertisers are attracted by the platform’s database which can potentially be the audience reach. Hence, it is natural that Facebook will use the personal data from other apps that it acquires to understand the users’ browsing habits and allow the relevant advertisements to show up (or pop-up nuisance).
Whilst nothing much has changed, there is a strong knee-jerk reaction from the consumers.
WhatsApp raison d'etre is a messaging app and its value proposition to the users is the messaging service and accordingly provides encryption security. They have to comply with data protection laws that the content of the messages should be kept private. WhatsApp policy explicitly states:
WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption is used when you message another person using WhatsApp Messenger. End-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you're communicating with can read or listen to what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp. This is because with end-to-end encryption, your messages are secured with a lock, and only the recipient and you have the special key needed to unlock and read them. All of this happens automatically: no need to turn on settings or set up special secret chats to secure your messages.
It is clearly stating that data collected by WhatsApp that they can store the meta tag (not the content) of their communications and share with other properties owned and controlled by Facebook. These include user phone numbers, “transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using our Services, mobile device information, your IP address”.
The rationale behind the new policy is to integrate better with Facebook‘s family of products, grant leeway for increased interaction with businesses, and gather financial data from users so as to provide users with connectivity. In doing so, it has also added a section called “Transaction and Payments Data” in a push for Facebook‘s various payment services to let users pay for different goods. In the push to bring about choice and convenience, the updated policy says that WhatsApp may send users marketing material about Facebook companies. Plus, the firm will use data collected from the app and other Facebook services for content suggestions, people recommendations, and ads along with service improvements.
However, the good intent requires collecting data from the user which is the tinder for this controversy. As an observer puts it, this is not about WhatsApp sharing any more of the individual’s data with Facebook than it does already, it is about using the individual’s data and engagement with its platform to enable shopping and other business services. From the engagement and data collected, it provides a platform where businesses can communicate with the individual and sell to the individual, in exchange for a “free” use of WhatsApp.
To be able to continue using the app, users will have to accept the terms or choose not to use the app. This is not sitting well with many users. Critics pointed out it may be a case of miscommunication from WhatsApp and somehow the situation spiraled into a public communication issue.
Handling public perception is one aspect of risk management that DPOs and risk managers need to know, in order to work better with the public relations/marcom team. DPEXNetwork offers a course on Crisis Communication for DPOs and some of the learning may be applicable to such scenario. https://www.dpexnetwork.org/courses/crisis-communications-and-data-breach-response-for-dpos/
By: Leong Wai Chong CIPM, GRCP
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official view or position of DPEXNetwork.
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