Picture: Reuters
Picture: Reuters

Expert says WhatsApp's revised policy is no cause for concern

By Karen Singh Time of article published Jan 15, 2021

Share this article:

Durban - The Information Regulator of South Africa is assessing the revised WhatsApp Privacy Policy following widespread privacy concerns raised by South African users which have resulted in some users moving to rival messaging apps.

The Facebook-owned messaging app said in a statement that WhatsApp goes to great lengths to build WhatsApp in a way that helps people communicate privately.

WhatsApp said the update, revised on January 4, includes changes related to messaging a business, which is optional and provides further transparency about how they collect and use data.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way.”

A meeting was held by the Information Regulator on Wednesday to discuss the matter and the regulator has made contact with Facebook South Africa and received the policy for assessment.

The regulator said it appeared that there are different terms of service and privacy policies for users in the European countries and in non-European countries.

“The regulator will be analysing whether the terms of service and the privacy policies indeed differ and whether the privacy policy applicable to users outside Europe, which include the South African users, is in compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia).”

The engagements with Facebook SA are ongoing.

Verlie Oosthuizen, the head of social media law at Shepstone & Wylie, said it was good that the regulator was checking compliance of the WhatsApp policy with Popia.

“It shows that the regulator is keeping abreast of current issues that concern South Africans and that data protection and privacy is being taken as seriously in our country as it is in Europe,” she said.

Oosthuizen said the definition of personal information was wide and WhatsApp and other social media platforms have always shared the personal information of users.

However, she said now this use needs to be brought to the attention of people using the platform and there needs to be informed consent.

Facebook is complying with this requirement, she said.

“In terms of EU data protection legislation as well as the data protection legislation of other countries, users of WhatsApp have to consent to their personal information being shared, if the platform is going to do that,” said Oosthuizen.

Oosthuizen further explained that the reason the services provided by social media platforms are “free” is that they make a large amount of their money by using the information of their users.

“In my view, there is no cause for concern, as the service has actually always been provided on this basis,” she said.

The new policy is merely bringing attention to what has been occurring all the time and will not change the users’ experience she added.

“The only difference is that now the user is being asked to give consent and it has been brought to their attention specifically. Prior to this the information sharing that Facebook was doing may not have been known by the user, even though it would have been mentioned in the terms and conditions of use,” said Oosthuizen.

Anna Larkina, a senior researcher at multinational cybercrime company Kaspersky, said nothing was truly free and that the current business model for free services meant that “we pay with our data, essentially”.

Larkina said social networks, some messengers and search engines make money off advertising, and the more personalised it was the better.

“Facebook and other companies have been doing this through its services for the past few years,” she said.

The Mercury

Share this article:

Related Articles