WhatsApp’s data privacy concerns on rise!

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WhatsApp is taking the footsteps of its parent company to the peak of capital gains. Facebook recently spent $5.7 billion to buy 9.99% stake in the Mumbai headquartered Reliance Industries to expand its services to local businesses.

Since 2018, WhatsApp has been testing its beta trials on WhatsApp Pay. It was an aggressively planned attempt to reach out to the massive WhatsApp users in India. This platform will allow users to provide for an Inter-bank fund transfer, similar to WeChat in mainland China.

An NGO called Good Governance Chambers filed a petition in the Supreme Court to restrain the government from granting WhatsApp Pay permission to operate in India. The complaint raised issues regarding WhatsApps misusing its dominance in India to gain monopoly. This petition was filed due to the rising concerns of WhatsApps’ non-compliance with maintaining data privacy of its users and the thread to financial information security. It was also further claimed that WhatsApp had failed to adhere to the Data Storage Rules and therefore on that contention, how can it be allowed to operate a financial gateway whose data breach could endanger millions of WhatsApp users. The case was heard by a three judges bench headed by Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde. WhatsApp India has claimed that they will nod launch their WhatsApp Pay till they get a not from the R.B.I.

The privacy issues do not end here. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, WhatsApp in its recent update allowed up to eight people to video call simultaneously. Furthermore, Facebook is also going ahead with its “Messenger Room” that allows to fit about fifty people in a single room for video conferencing. People who do not own a Facebook account can also be included.

This raises a question on whether our personal data is safe with Facebook or not. According to German Data Privacy Commissioner Ulrich Kelber, “just by sending messages, metadata is delivered to WhatsApp every time,” and therefore, it can be assumed that these data snippets are sent to Facebook for processing.

WhatsApp might not be as trustworthy as people think.

WhatsApp has allowed group admins to let people join their WhatsApp group via a link. Despite the removal of such links, the data of WhatsApp users is available on internet archives, even if these links are deleted. According to Jordan Wildon, any group link that is shared outside of secure and private messaging can be found and joined.

 Facebook recently issued a statement to save itself from talking responsibility for massive privacy threats that are posed to it’s users. According to them, it was intentional to have its groups saving information online and making them easily accessible for the people to connect but they have made it easier to share child pornography, share political propaganda theories and increase the extent of terror groups. In an e-mail to a Hyderabad based hacker, HackrzVijay, Facebook was found quoting:

“Group admins in WhatsApp groups are able to invite any WhatsApp user to join that group by sharing a link that they have generated. Like all content that is shared in searchable, public channels, invite links that are posted publicly on the internet can be found by other WhatsApp users. Links that users wish to share privately with people they know and trust should not be posted on a publicly accessible website.”

What this means is that a WhatsApp groups title, description, images, phone numbers of members could be easily viewed without even joining the group.

Making it easier for people to join a group through internet does not have to pose a threat to the users. WhatsApp might have been too blinded by its desire to capture the market to forget it’s primary objective of connecting people without any compromise.

-Ridha Dhawan
Member, Reporters Committee

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