Over 340 million people in India are closely watching and questioning WhatsApp, a messaging app that is widely used daily.
This became a major issue as WhatsApp didn't seem to be offering any way to opt-out of the data sharing policy. This has left users confused and concerned about the privacy of their chats and media shared on the messaging platform.
Amid many doubts, let's try and address some of the more important questions on everyone's mind.
Q. Will WhatsApp share our personal chats with Facebook?
A: No. Any conversation, photos, messages, calls, videos between friends, family or your personal contact are not affected with the new policy. WhatsApp has no way to see these as these are all end to end encrypted conversations.
Q. What user data will WhatsApp share?
A: It's predominantly metadata and metadata is different from normal data. These are what WhatsApp can share: Mobile device information like OS, phone model, screen resolution, IP addresses, language, coarse location (which means they know what city you are in but not which house you are in).
Users need to be aware that the main policy change is in the messages sent to a WhatsApp business account. If the user chooses not to interact with a business account on WhatsApp, no data other than metadata will be shared with Facebook.
Q. What action is the Government of India is taking towards WhatsApp?
A: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of India has reached out to WhatsApp to withdraw its policy changes in the country to which the app has said that they will provide transparency and new options available to engage with businesses so they can serve their customers and grow. They are working to address misinformation and remain available to answer any questions.
Q. How will it affect the user?
A: For the end-user, the most likely effect will be more targeted ads across Facebook-owned properties. The company will be able to show you more relevant ads based on your browsing and search history across Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp.
Additionally, if you speak to a business like MakeMyTrip, Croma or BookMyShow on WhatsApp, Facebook can now share more data about you so that partners can offer more personalised services across its owned platforms.
A: As of now - the updated policy which goes into effect starting May 15, cannot be opted out of. And WhatsApp has not yet detailed what will happen if you don't accept it. However, WhatsApp has assured no account will be suspended. This may change due to a very fluid daily changing situation.
Q. Are there alternatives to WhatsApp that users can switch to?
A: There are other messaging apps like Signal and Telegram. Signal app is highly focused on privacy whereas Telegram is a mix of features and has a private chat option too.
To answer the all-important question: Should users keep using WhatsApp? As of now, absolutely. Keep in mind the metadata it tracks and users should be fine. A messaging platform is only as good as the number of people you know who use it. WhatsApp has more than 2 billion users. Until the situation becomes more clear in the next few weeks, users should be fine with WhatsApp.