Behind WhatsApp’s splashy privacy push

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During the AFC Championship game, WhatsApp bought its first US ad. It uses overly intrusive mailmen to expose the privacy risks of SMS. As a person obsessed with data privacy, I was thrilled to see it take center stage. It was all rightly a wonderful commercial- except for one. The messenger was wrong. I would buy if an ad was released by a company with a historically strong record on data privacy like Apple, but certainly not WhatsApp, which is owned by Matani.

Some perspective

WhatsApp is the world’s most popular messaging app with over 2 billion users in 180 countries. But it lacks traction in the US, its home market, where consumers still rely heavily on SMS (unsecured) and iMessage (secure, but Apple-bound). Facebook Messenger (meta-integrated) and, to a lesser extent, Snapchat (ad-supported) and Signal (highly secure) also lead WhatsApp. From this perspective, it makes a lot of sense for WhatsApp to put a big pressure on privacy.

Unfamiliar to millions of American consumers, WhatsApp has the opportunity to brand itself even though it feels right, which now includes a nod back to its original privacy. This works for the benefit of Meta as it seeks to improve its image due to its privacy failure. But, if you take a closer look, things don’t add up at all.

WhatsApp launched in 2009 as a good alternative to SMS – it gets credit for ensuring encryption and private conversations. But while the company may want to support additional security and privacy features and reject the advertising model as an independent company – as it matures – it puts first the user features like sending media and push notifications.

Surprisingly, after its 2014 acquisition by Facebook, the focus shifted to utility features like in-app calling rather than security or privacy, to compete with Viber (first with calling), Line (first with stickers) and more. This delayed the introduction of WhatsApp’s two-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption until 2016.

Things that amaze you

Then came the big privacy walk-back. Earlier, WhatsApp announced a change in its privacy policy in January 2021. The change would allow more data points to be shared with businesses and third-party advertising targeting agreements with WhatsApp and Facebook. Users who do not agree to the new terms will have their account deleted.

At first, many users did not realize that Facebook, a company with a poor data privacy record, already had access to the right amount of WhatsApp metadata, such as phone numbers and information about their devices. Then hearing that even more metadata could be mined, shared, and sold for advertising purposes, was a bit of a gut punch for those paying attention. Millions turned their backs on the service, causing WhatsApp to delay its entire policy for months.

The changes finally began in May 2021, when WhatsApp felt that Brohaha was dead enough. It was hoped that in the meantime, users would become more dependent on the service and thus accept more terms they did not like. But since then not everything has gone smoothly.

Data privacy rules in Europe are stricter than in the US, with WhatsApp being fined € 225 million ($ 267 million) in September by Ireland’s Privacy Watchdog for violating EU data privacy rules.

To put this in perspective, only Amazon has ever been hit with a hefty fine. On the problem: WhatsApp failed to tell European users how their personal information is collected and used, as well as how WhatsApp shares data with Facebook. Also in September, ProPublica released a very bad report about how WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption probably didn’t crack up.

Given this, as well as the fact that Facebook has faced data privacy issues in its rights, WhatsApp is not a champion of data privacy. It’s no coincidence that WhatsApp binds Meta to its campaigns, erasing Facebook’s questionable privacy records and any remaining links to Voila! A new branding opportunity was born.

Don’t kill the messenger

Why would Meta / Facebook adopt such a strategy for one of its prize assets?

Every move creates meta by design. In order to realize its long-term plan to create a uniform messaging platform, it will have to get regulatory approval. However, the appetite for breaking up the company has never been strong. Meta has been forced to put his cards in front of his own watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission (at least to some extent).

Meta is needed to show the FTC how companies are connected to each other but not competitive, how they work to improve the experience by integrating the services people want, such as an Instagram account to communicate with someone with a WhatsApp account. To allow As a result, the company has teamed up with this huge entity in an effort to own messaging conversations and is using the old marketing message of end-to-end encryption to back up the boomerang.

By adopting a privacy message that is compatible with WhatsApp, Meta can introduce a variety of Maya Kalpa. He may claim that he has listened to privacy concerns and has taken steps to resolve them. Don’t be silly It’s just a message; They actually do nothing different from what they did in the past. It does not set any kind of privacy standard.

This leaves us all in a bit of a precarious position. Meta cannot return. Thus, WhatsApp can’t either. Therefore, we are stuck in the model of surveillance capitalism covered with privacy. Surveillance capitalism is an economic system based on the analysis of our experiences according to data shared in human behavior predictions and online interactions, created by Harvard Business School Professor Emerita, Shoshna Zuboff. These interactions are then monetized by the companies that enable them.

Explaining the current puzzle in full, Zuboff says, “Demanding privacy from surveillance capitalists or lobbying for an end to commercial surveillance on the Internet is like asking old Henry Ford to make every model tea by hand. These demands are survival risks that violate the entity’s basic mechanisms of existence.

Sounds a little frustrating. WhatsApp may be booming in its boomerang strong privacy trends – but we’re seeing new signs of transparency and commitment with it. Privacy advice In the midst of the war in Ukraine (Signal has a strong reputation for security in Ukraine ahead of it, while WhatsApp is still trying to get points). Meta is still unlikely to move further with the data privacy spectrum with ongoing compatibility, however, if forced to do so by governments. While the new law is certainly a possibility, it will probably take some time to draft and more time to implement.

In the meantime, consumers have to decide. They need to look beyond a fast marketing campaign, gain an understanding of what’s going on with their data and prepare to exit platforms they know and like, or adhere to data privacy practices that are part of the surveillance capitalism system. . . The choice is up to them.

Daniel Barber is the CEO and co-founder of DataGrail.

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