I have been using Telegram regularly for several years, and in the last week, more than 50 of my contacts have signed up for the application. They are part of the more than 25 million new users that the application achieved in just 72 hours, in reaction to last week’s announcements about the WhatsApp policy update, which, as a result of significant media coverage, has generated concern among users in this part of the world. And I say in this part, because the new terms and conditions do not apply within the European Union, thanks to the first-class protection provided by the General Data Protection Regulation to the citizens of that Region. Outside the EU, when it comes to privacy, it’s very cold.
The funny thing is that this update had been advanced by WhatsApp in the previous October, however it has been materialized until last week, and in a very unfriendly way: if they are not accepted, the user will be prevented from continuing to use the application at starting February 8. That draconian measure, plus the fact that it was announced that user data would be shared with Facebook – a company that acquired WhatsApp 7 years ago – has raised suspicions and concerns in many users. Of the 50 contacts that I have who have migrated to Telegram, or at least have opened an account there, the vast majority of them continue to maintain a profile on Facebook, so that reservations towards the computer giant seem not to be absolute.
So, if you use WhatsApp for personal, social or family communications, in the words of the company, this update does not affect you, but if you interact with WhatsApp with business accounts, what you have to know is that those messages can end up in the hands of third parties, you lose control over them and WhatsApp washes its hands on the further use of that data. How to know if an account is business? At the beginning of the conversation with a business user, the application itself warns that it is an account managed by a company.
Will WhatsApp really not access my messages or listen to my calls? The company assures that no, and the technical explanation is that communications through WhatsApp are encrypted from end to end, that means that each message comes out encrypted, that is, shielded from your device, and is received encrypted on the receiver’s. In each phone are the unique keys that allow to open these messages. This is a security mechanism that prevents third parties, or WhatsApp itself, from accessing the content of messages or calls from its users. However, in the case of business accounts, what will be allowed is that, once the messages are received by these accounts, they lose their encryption and become subject to the privacy practices of the receiving company, which may outsource with other companies, including Facebook itself, the storage and management of those messages. With this, commercial management through WhatsApp will undoubtedly be made more dynamic and easier, by allowing these companies to provide management of messaging, orders, inventories and even payments.
It seems that WhatsApp is in a position to assume the risk of losing several thousand or even millions of users who do not accept the change in conditions, in exchange for betting on considerably invigorating the application as a marketplace integrated with Facebook. It can be a risky bet, but if you take into account that 175 million people communicate daily with companies through WhatsApp, there is hardly such a level of repudiation of the new policies that it makes the company back down, and probably the same facilities of communication with companies that offer goods and services convince users to return to the application.
What are my options? Unless you want to move to Europe, the options you have are: a) Accept the terms and conditions, and think very well with which companies or business accounts you communicate through WhatsApp, or b) Reject the changes and say goodbye to WhatsApp as of next month (An excellent excuse to leave their groups!), And migrate to other platforms, such as Telegram (which also has a history of breaches of security and privacy) or the most secure ones, such as Signal (which has been downloaded 7.5 million times so far this year) or Wire, with the problem that you probably won’t find many people who use them.
It is very positive that users are concerned about their privacy and that they show interest in the way companies treat our data. We are all exposed daily to the tracking and monitoring of our activities thanks to the phone we carry in our hand. Hence, it is especially important that we choose well what information we are able to share digitally, since the risk that it ends up in the wrong hands is real.
Today, where real-time communications are essential in our family, social and professional lives, trying to live without WhatsApp can be as complex as living without a bank account. By using WhatsApp or any other social network, we lose an important part of our privacy in exchange for a service. What you should think about is whether in your specific case, what you receive justifies the price you are paying with your data.