WhatsApp's new privacy policy pushes users to rival messaging app Signal

Topics whatsapp | Facebook | Data Privacy

Other rival apps have also benefited from fears over WhatsApp’s new privacy policy
Facebook India has made a strong attempt to allay fears amongst users of WhatsApp that accepting the messaging platform’s updation in its privacy policy and terms of service would compromise their personal data.

This comes even as companies cautioned their employees on using WhatsApp, and rival messaging app Signal emerged from oblivion to hit the top slot as the most downloaded communication application (app) in the country on Sunday.

Tata Steel sent an email advisory, asking employees not to post any sensitive information on WhatsApp and not to conduct business meetings on it. It has suggested that they use Microsoft facilities and Microsoft Teams for official communication. The company said that the move is in response to WhatsApp updating its privacy policy and terms of services.

A spokesperson of Tata Steel did not respond to a query in this regard. 

Essar Group has given 150 top executives the use of Microsoft Teams to conduct official business. This will now be extended to others. However, the company has not given any advisory as yet. 

The controversy erupted after Facebook announced changes in its terms of service in WhatsApp and said that the services of the two social media platforms would be integrated. 

However, a spokesperson for WhatsApp India told Business Standard: “The update does not change WhatsApp’s sharing practices with Facebook and does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family. WhatsApp remains deeply committed to protecting people’s privacy.” 

On the fears that the encryption of data will be compromised, the spokesperson added: “At our core is the ability to message or call loved ones freely, which is protected by end-to-end encryption, and that is not changing. We are communicating directly with users of WhatsApp about these changes so that they have time to review the new policy over the course of the next month”. 

WhatsApp also made it clear that in case customers do not want to accept the update, they will still be able to make and receive calls, but they won’t be able to read messages. 

The spokesperson clarified that as announced in October 2020, WhatsApp wants to make it easier for people to both make a purchase and get help from businesses directly on the app. While most people use the messaging app to chat with friends and family, increasingly, people are using the platform for business as well. There are 15 million WhatsApp business users. 

“To further increase transparency, we updated the privacy policy to describe that going forward, businesses can choose to receive secure hosting services from our parent company Facebook to help manage their communications with their customers on WhatsApp. Though of course it remains for the user whether or not they want to message with a business on WhatsApp,” the spokesperson added.

But what of the apprehensions over the integration between Facebook and WhatsApp?

The company said that areas have been clearly defined in the policy for transparency. For instance, one can use Facebook Pay for buying things on WhatsApp and chat with friends on other Facebook company products by connecting to their WhatsApp account. 

Meanwhile, the clarion call given by Tesla’s Elon Musk, encouraging the world to shift to Signal (an app built by a non-profit organisation) has seen the app’s ranking in India rise dramatically.

According to the US-based Sensor Tower, which tracks rankings based on downloads across the world, Signal was not even amongst the top 100 communication apps in India till January 7, the day Facebook announced its new privacy guidelines for WhatsApp. 

The next day, Signal hit the No. 38 spot, and on January 9, it jumped to No. 5. And on January 10, it hit the top slot, ahead of Telegram and WhatsApp.

Other rival apps have also benefited from fears over WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. Telegram, which is becoming popular in India, saw its ranking go up from No. 3 on January 7 to No. 1 on January 9. During the same period, WhatsApp’s rank fell from No. 1 on January 7 to No. 3 on January 10.

However, Viber, once a popular alternative, was unable to profit from WhatsApp’s fall from grace, and could not get into the list of the top 50 messaging apps in India.

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