WhatsApp users mull leaving app over privacy concerns
Messaging platform wants users to allow it to share their data with Facebook, or be booted out
Some Singaporeans have left or are contemplating leaving WhatsApp after the messaging application announced changes to its privacy policies last week.
The new policy, due to start on Feb 8, will allow WhatsApp to share user data with parent company Facebook. Users outside of Europe who do not accept the new terms of service will be booted from the app.
Amid privacy concerns, many users across the globe, including in Singapore, have migrated to alternative messaging platforms, with Telegram and Signal seeing major boosts in new downloads.
On Tuesday, WhatsApp reassured users that it would still respect their privacy, and neither it nor Facebook can access users' private messages or calls as message content is encrypted end to end.
It added that the changes are related to messages between consumers and businesses over WhatsApp, a feature available in Singapore since August 2018.
But some companies can now choose to store the messages securely on Facebook's servers to help them manage the chats.
And while Facebook will not automatically use a user's chats with businesses to shape advertisements targeting the user, a business can use the chat data for its marketing purposes, including ads on Facebook.
A check on the Apple App Store also shows that user data harvested by WhatsApp includes purchase history, payment info, coarse location, e-mail address, phone number, contacts, and user ID and device ID, much more than what Telegram and Signal collect.
A local user, Miss Geraldine Mark, 27, told The New Paper: "The data they intend to share is an infringement on my privacy. I feel uncomfortable knowing it will be shared across platforms and have no say in opting out without deleting the app." The financial adviser said she has moved several of her conversations to Telegram.
But, like many users, she has found it is not so easy to part ways with WhatsApp, which has two billion users worldwide, unless one's contacts migrate to another app in tandem.
As she uses WhatsApp mainly for work and relies on it for important information that is difficult to move to other platforms, Miss Mark sees herself reluctantly accepting the new terms before the deadline.
Madam Lok Chee Yun, 63, fears what may happen in the longer term.
"The information we allow them to collect may end up being used to bombard us with advertisements in the future," the auditor said.
While she finds WhatsApp convenient to keep in touch with her extended family and friends, she will consider switching to other apps after discussing with her close contacts if they would do likewise.
Experts TNP spoke to said the changes are aimed at helping the marketing strategies of Facebook and Instagram, which the former acquired in 2012.
Dr Ori Sasson, director of cyber intelligence firm S2T, said: "If you have Facebook or Instagram but use WhatsApp more, the other two platforms can gain more information about you with access to data on how you use WhatsApp."
Mr Jonathan Kok, a tech lawyer at Withers Tech, said: "As a social media platform that relies on advertising revenue, having more precise information about its users will attract more advertisers to sign up."
Digital communication executive Muhammad Jazly, 27, has concerns whether his data will end up being used for purposes other than targeted advertising.
While noting WhatsApp's assurance to users, he said: "There is always a possibility their position might change in the future. I will consider deleting WhatsApp and relying on other messaging platforms."
Mr David Alfred, co-head of data protection, privacy and cyber-security practice at law firm Drew & Napier, said a user's view on privacy will ultimately decide whether he sticks with WhatsApp or moves on.
He said: "Some may see this as a beneficial development - Facebook trying to understand them better to offer them better or new services in the future.
"But others will see it as an intrusion on their privacy and do not want a commercial organisation to have more information about them than it already has."
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