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Privacy on WhatsApp: Are We Ready for a World Without Privacy of Data?

Abdullah AttaJuly 26, 2021

In early January of 2021, Whatsapp gave an ultimatum to its 2 billion-plus userbase: accept our updated privacy policy or leave. Privacy on Whatsapp was already a controversial topic but this public ultimatum tipped the bucket.

People who were already privacy-conscious started to migrate to other apps like Telegram or Signal. Elon Musk tweeted telling users to "use Signal" which caused the largest digital migration in history of the Internet.

But a lot of people already knew that privacy on Whatsapp is a joke. Whatsapp had made similar privacy policy updates before. And it had never received such a riotous response from its users. What had changed?

The inability to opt-out

The obvious reason for the general outcry against the privacy policy was the sweeping changes that Whatsapp made in one go. In short, Whatsapp was asking permission to share all of its user metadata with its parent company Facebook. What was this data that Whatsapp was going to share? It was your phone number, your contact's phone numbers, transaction data, information on how you interact with others (including businesses), your phone's IP address, your location data, your activity patterns, profile pictures...the list goes on.

Facebook is notorious for mishandling its user's privacy of data. The 2015 Cambridge Analytica scandal was still fresh in users' minds and when WhatsApp changed its privacy policy, the implications were clear: it was time to start using the data of its 2 billion users for ads and monetization.

The exemption of some countries like Europe

Interestingly some countries like the EU were completely exempt from these privacy ultimatums. No changes were made in the privacy policy for users in the EU.

This is no surprise as the EU has very strict privacy laws. In 2016 Facebook was fined $122 million in fines because it mislead the EU regulators into believing that Whatsapp and Facebook had no possibility of integration with each other. The very thing it was now doing openly.

Whatsapp's Perfect Trap

This exemption of users from some countries was infuriating for others who were given no choice. Whatsapp had become such an important part of our lives that a lot of people had to accept the new privacy policy simply because their friends and family were not on any other platform. In simple words, Whatsapp had concocted the perfect trap.

A future without privacy

In the ever changing world of Internet, privacy of data has never been important for anyone. Most of us use Google to find answers to our questions, Whatsapp & Facebook to communicate with our friends and family. To us these are just tools like an axe or a saw for a carpenter. A means to an end.

Big data is watching you
Photo by ev on Unsplash

Unfortunately, we have fed the giant and continue to feed it. The future of the Internet is bleak with nothing hidden from prying eyes. Why? Because we let these so-called tools establish themselves as essentials in our lives. Can you imagine spending a day without Whatsapp or Facebook or Instagram?

But the big question is: are we ready for a world without privacy of data?

A mass surveillance world

We, the users, are unknowingly beckoning the devil: a world where our every thought, every word will be watched, processed, used, and sold.

The leaks by Edward Snowden and Facebook's Cambridge Analytica Scandal are a clear warning for all of us. Is it too late to change this? The problem is clear but are we ready for the solution?

A telegraph from Notesnook

Dear reader,
I do not fancy a world where privacy is a foriegn concept. That is the very reason for which I was made. To carry the flag of privacy, freedom, and digital liberty. To prove that utility can exist with privacy. To say no to invasion of privacy.

Yours truly,

Abdullah Atta
Abdullah AttaLead developer of Notesnook
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