The Fear, The Fake and The Facts – The New Pandemic on Chats
Monday morning when I woke up there and switched on my phone, there were hundreds of messages forwards and group chats if we should delete out WhatsApp accounts and either move the group to a new chat platform called Signal. In the fear of not losing out of the connects in my WhatsApp Groups, I also downloaded the Signal App. However two times it crashed and was not able to connect with my contacts. Over the day there were the fake propaganda being floated against WhatsApp. Let’s understand, India is one of the largest cohorts of users for any App and with over 750 million smartphones such negative propaganda to move towards open App platforms so that those who want to propagate their malicious negative agenda to the masses. These could be in the form of the following:
- Communal, news written with the intention of inciting religious and communal passion
- Violence, Criminal and sexual.
- Integrity and Authenticity
- Questionable Practices and Rituals (Occult, Blackmagic)
- Bullying and Terrorism
- Misinformation (bank shutdown, currency devaluation, economy)
- False Health Advisories, we see an uptick in these during the Covid-19 pandemic
- Spreading false information about competition
- Political misinformation
- Personal Defamation
WhatsApp issued a statement to clarify their stand. These are:
- WhatsApp cannot see your private messages or hear your calls and neither can Facebook
- WhatsApp does not keep logs of who everyone is messaging and calling
- WhatsApp cannot see your shared location and neither can Facebook
- WhatsApp does not share your contacts with Facebook
- WhatsApp groups remain private
- The user can set their messages to disappear
- The user can download their data
- The company, in its blog emphasised that this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which it claims is optional.
WhatsApp’s official Statement shared by The Verge:
The update does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook and does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world. WhatsApp remains deeply committed to protecting people’s privacy. We are communicating directly with users through WhatsApp about these changes so they have time to review the new policy over the course of the next month.”
- WhatsApp Message Policy
- WhatsApp Encryption
- WhatsApp Device and Connection Policy
- WhatsApp Location Policy
- WhatsApp Data Sharing with Facebook
- WhatsApp Ads Policy
- WhatsApp Minimum Age
- WhatsApp Ban Policy
Back in April 2020, we had engaged with WhatsApp India leadership to enable CovidBots for various states on the 108 and 104 helplines to reduce the call volumes on the command centers. We had interacted with the Government Relations, the Legal Head, WhatsApp India MD, Facebook India MD, Head of Partnerships. The first question off the bat from WhatsApp was that every Chief Minister of India was given an approved number to communicate to their citizens of their state on Covid, why a new service. The second issue pointed out by WhatsApp India was is the CovidBot similar to Aarogya Setu App. If yes, WhatsApp India would not permit such a chatbot. Now my question to all in India is, if you can provide your location data and movement to now an officially mandated Government App, WhatsApp was just not interested in allowing any of their partners to collect location data of the people of India through their platform.
The second issue around the healthcare data privacy that WhatsApp was concerned before they approved a CovidBot was protecting the identity and masking healthcare data of the masses and nothing should be allowed to go through their WhatsApp platform. As you may be aware WhatsApp is a US headquartered company and is legally bound by a much more stringent HIPPA Act which our Aarogya Setu would fail if it was implemented in the US.
The third issue with WhatsApp in allowing any healthcare chatbot was that they had to actually write and clear a global policy on healthcare during pandemics and emergency. Their global policy team at their headquarters actually. India was the first country that was approved by WhatsApp to roll out a CovidBot in the world. Then Israel and others followed.
My limited point to all the fear and fake has been that a company like WhatsApp (now Facebook) is equally concerned in allowing what is legally feasible on their chat platform through their WhatsApp for Business and Facebook handles while the local Aarogya Setu does not even meet a basic privacy filter. So why is there so much fear around your privacy?
Let me conclude by saying, when you buy an expensive high-end smartphone on Apple or Android platform, please decline their terms and condition. The expensive toy in your hand will just be a brick. Please throw that expensive brick in your hand to protest for privacy on Aarogya Setu at Shaheen Baug.