There are several reasons why people have remained on WhatsApp even though they are aware of the implications of accepting its policy update. Photo: File
There are several reasons why people have remained on WhatsApp even though they are aware of the implications of accepting its policy update. Photo: File

Why WhatsApp is unstoppable

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Jun 7, 2021

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WHEN WhatsApp introduced its controversial privacy policy, many people migrated to other platforms such as Telegram and Signal.

During the same period, data from analytics firm Sensortower suggests that downloads of the privacy-focused Signal app grew by nearly 1 200 percent year-on-year throughout Q1 2021.

It was downloaded an estimated 64.6 million times. January was the blockbuster month for the app, with more than 51 million downloads.

Telegram’s download growth in the same period was 98 percent, and the app recorded 161 million installs. This surge also helped Telegram cross the mark of 500 million monthly active users on the platform.

The massive migration to other platforms has, however, not impacted WhatsApp as much.

Facebook told a leading tech start-up media entity that most users had accepted the updated privacy policy, and the app continued to grow – though it didn’t share numbers around it.

Some users who migrated to Telegram and Signal are still using WhatsApp.

Why are people, after accepting the policy update, still on WhatsApp even though concerns have been raised about how its parent company handles data?

There are several reasons. One is that WhatsApp is built in such a way that once you are in, it’s difficult to leave. Groups within WhatsApp are one of the few features that make it difficult for people to leave.

A second reason is the simplicity baked within WhatsApp is another critical feature that kept some within the platform even though they’ve downloaded a different platform.

Some users have chosen to use Telegram and Signal for some sensitive communication instead of communicating within WhatsApp.

A third reason is that not everyone cares about privacy or are aware of the implications of personal data being shared with Facebook.

The factors do not change the seriousness of the current developments by WhatsApp and Facebook.

Countries that take the matters seriously have used the law to stop WhatsApp in its tracks.

The German data protection agency has banned Facebook from processing the additional WhatsApp user data that the tech giant is granting itself access to under a mandatory update to WhatsApp’s terms of service. The Indian government has also sought to block the changes to WhatsApp’s T&CS in court – and the country’s antitrust authority is investigating.

There are probably more countries that have taken action against the move by WhatsApp and they will probably protect themselves from being impacted by implications that will come with the change.

The recent developments around data and big-tech companies, such as WhatsApp under Facebook, show that there’s a need for an international body and data laws to govern data.

The effectiveness of the European region leaves them with all the benefits while countries with weaker regulators suffer.

The fact that WhatsApp has continued to grow despite migration to other platforms as well as continued use of the platform, even though there are data threats, should serve as a wake-up call.

Big-tech companies should not be allowed to use weaknesses in different geographical areas to execute policies that are known to have an undesirable impact.

As long as the issue is not addressed at a global level, countries with weaker regulators will continue to suffer. It should not be acceptable for global tech companies to do one thing in Europe and do something different in Africa.

What is unfolding will lead to a situation where we will have two types of digital spaces, one where privacy rights are violated and the other where they are protected.

The nature of violations by bigtech companies has reached a point where international bodies need to take action in the interest of protecting privacy rights.

Such matters can no longer be left to individuals and individual countries to protect their privacy.

Big-tech companies have the power of nation states which is why some regulators are ignored when privacy concerns are raised.

The South African Information Regulator has, on several occasions, written to Facebook with no satisfaction, yet about when European authorities make noise about their privacy they receive attention.

To stop this madness, the international community will need a combined plan of action if violations of privacy by big tech is to be stopped.

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