Time to quit WhatsApp?

With WhatsApp updating its privacy policy, a large number of users are switching over to alternative messaging apps like Telegram and Signal PHOTO: Getty Images

With WhatsApp updating its privacy policy, the internet was abuzz with user complaints and plans to shift to alternative messaging platforms  

Since WhatsApp shared its updated policy with its users, there has been a steady trend of people expressing concern over it. So much so, that many concerned users have even taken to social media platforms, like Twitter to register their displeasure. Some users even say that they will be quitting the messaging platform altogether.

The social media trend over WhatsApp updated policy even had eminent personalities like Elon Musk and Edward Snowden backing the move away from WhatsApp. Musk went to the extent of tweeting “Use Signal”, a rival messaging service.  

The move by WhatsApp to update its privacy policy where it explicitly states that user data is collected and shared with Facebook and other third-party service providers have come in the wake of the ongoing tussle between Facebook and Apple over the latter’s move towards greater recognition and transparency over data collection and use which can be controlled by the end-user.  

The updated policy by WhatsApp entails that the use of data collected from WhatsApp is shared with Facebook and other third-party service providers to ensure better services and that users no longer have the option to opt-out of sharing their data, something they could do earlier. Updated on 4 January, users have till 8 February to accept the terms of the updated policy.

In the past, Facebook and its companies have been criticised for their inability to ensure transparency in the way they collect and share user data. As such it comes as no surprise that in wake of the policy update, many users are now shifting to the little known app — Signal. 

As users moved away from the messaging giant, Telegram and Signal gained the most from the situation. Of the two, users were seen registering on Signal on such large numbers that the messaging platform became the top downloaded app on Saturday 9 January and even faced difficulty in providing timely verification codes due to the unexpected increase in traffic. “Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now (we can barely register our excitement). We are working with carriers to resolve this as quickly as possible. Hang in there,” tweeted the platform’s official Twitter handle.

The principal motive driving users away from WhatsApp seems not to be the updated policy, but the move that takes away the user’s ability to control the data the tech firm collects and shares. And in times when awareness around data collection and sharing is increasing, it is no surprise that users are switching in large numbers to alternative messaging apps. 

Amongst the alternatives, Signal’s record has almost been impeccable, to the point where the app claims to collect no user data. However, in December 2020 Cellebrite, an Israeli security firm claimed to have ‘cracked’ the messaging app’s encryption enabling it to disrupt chats and voice-calls, a claim Signal denied. Furthermore, the second most sought after app, Telegram, has faced security breaches in the past with data of millions of users being exposed and being sold on the dark web. 

Thus, even though both these apps do not enjoy as wide a user base as WhatsApp nor do they have an untarnished image when it comes to security, their willingness to ensure transparency and desist from collecting user-generated data, is helping the gain prominence as WhatsApp falls from grace.

As for users, the more aware they become of how much data these apps collect and where and how it is used, they want a greater say or at least the option to keep their data private and not be used as a commodity being traded for monetary gains.  

What, however, remains to be seen is what steps the Facebook-owned messaging giant will take to win back user trust and how it will shape the following updates once Apple releases its updated policies, which look to make data collection without user consent even more difficult. 

 

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