File picture: Reuters/Dado Ruvic
File picture: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

WhatsApp privacy policy updates: Information Regulator threatens legal action

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published May 18, 2021

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South Africa’s Information Regulator is taking legal advice on the possible next steps regarding WhatsApp's updated privacy policy.WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy came into effect in South Africa on 15 May 2021.

The Regulator's primary concern is that WhatsApp has adopted two distinct privacy policies. The one will be implemented in the European Union (EU), which is the EU Policy and the other to be implemented in jurisdictions outside the EU (non-EU Policy).

The Regulator has noted that the adoption of the non-EU Policy in South Africa is regardless of the fact that South Africa's Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPIA) contains minimum standards that govern the processing of personal information.

These standards are substantively similar to those in the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 (GDPR) which regulates the protection of personal information in EU member countries.

The EU Policy also gives WhatsApp users more information about how and when WhatsApp will use their personal information.

“While the distinction is understandable from a legal compliance perspective, as the GDPR contains more prescriptive provisions about the information that WhatsApp should provide to users, it is potentially the principle adopted by WhatsApp which raises concern,” said Wendy Tembedza from Webber Wentzel.

“It is important to note that the spirit of data protection law is that data subjects should be given enough information to make an informed decision on whether they consent to sharing their personal information with the relevant controller (WhatsApp). It is not clear why WhatsApp has adopted an approach that, while presumably resulting in similar if not identical uses of personal information across the world, provides data subjects that are not in the EU with considerably less information about what WhatsApp (and the Facebook group of companies) intends to do with their personal information.”

What happens if I don’t accept the update?

If a WhatsApp user fails to accept the update, they will experience limited functionality.

“For the last several weeks, we've displayed a notification in WhatsApp providing more information about the update. After giving everyone time to review, we're continuing to remind those who haven’t had the chance to do so to review and accept. After a period of several weeks, the reminder people receive will eventually become persistent. You’ll encounter limited functionality on WhatsApp until you accept the updates,” said WhatsApp in a statement.

It is worth noting that this will not happen to all users at the same time.

Users will not be able to access their chat list, but will still be able to answer incoming phone and video calls. If you have notifications enabled, you can tap on them to read or respond to a message or call back a missed phone or video call.

However, after a few weeks of limited functionality, you won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications. WhatsApp will also stop sending messages and calls to your phone.


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