WHAT’S UP WITH WHATSAPP? Whatsapp’s New Privacy Changes and Its Impact on Users and Marketers

 

Most Ghanaians who own Smartphones have WhatsApp as their go-to messaging platform for connecting with friends and loved ones. WhatsApp also plays a crucial role in business transactions as more and more businesses are employing the various functionalities of the app to communicate with their customers and prospects.

On 25th August, WhatsApp released a statement about changes to its privacy policy. Since then I have seen many a post on Facebook and in WhatsApp groups and some conspiracy theories about what these changes mean.

THE ISSUE OF PRIVACY

Before the announcement, I had noticed for a while that after I have an interaction with someone on WhatsApp, Facebook would suggest them as a friend when I logged in to my Facebook account!

Through this I got to know that a gentleman I met during a training session was a recent proud father-of-a-bride (as his profile picture indicated). This to me was too much information but hey, how many of your Facebook friends are actual friends? The word ‘friend’ has another definition in the world of Facebook; it can even include random strangers!

BACKGROUND

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, there were concerns about the use of WhatsApp’s data by Facebook. Jan Koum, the co-founder of WhatsApp tried to alley these fears, in a blog post. He wrote that respect for users’ privacy was coded into WhatsApp’s DNA, “WhatsApp was built around the goal of knowing as little about users as possible”. This stance is changing a little and this has incurred the displeasure of many. The update in policy has resulted in accusations of transparency breaches and broken promises are being leveled against the brand. Some privacy watchdogs are already up in arms and are investigating the legality of the update.  On the other hand, some are of the view that the writing was on the wall; it was just a matter of time before Facebook notorious for monetizing usage via interest-based advertising (fed by harvesting the personal data of its users) started milking the cow.

 BUSINESS CASE

Early WhatsApp users will remember that there was a $1 fee that WhatsApp proposed to charge after a year of free service.  This was WhatsApp’s original business model, of charging users a small yearly subscription fee for an ad-free messaging service. So it was free for the first year and than 1$ per year subsequently. No advertising or data selling. This annual $1 fee was abandoned after Facebook bought the service. This raised the question of how WhatsApp was going to monetize its platform given its anti-ads stance.

As part of Facebook’s business model, it uses the personal data it harvests from its users to help businesses create interest-based and targeted advertising. For instance, advertisers can target people who have been married for a year or people who use iOS devices etc. This targeting is enabled by the information users put in their profiles.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR USERS

The honeymoon is over – the ‘free-ride’ on WhatsApp has come to an end. Now you have to sell a little bit of your privacy to keep enjoying the application.

WhatsApp is going to officially share: “some account information” (this is very vague) of users with Facebook and its group of companies (this may include Instagram and the Virtual Reality producers of the Oculus Rift) including phone numbers you verified when you registered with WhatsApp.

This means that if you do not use any of the other services within the Facebook family apart from WhatsApp, the changes in ToC’s will not affect you that much.

WhatsApp assures us that the changes do not affect the way we use the app – “People use our app every day to keep in touch with the friends and loved ones who matter to them, and this isn’t changing.”

In addition, WhatsApp guarantees that because of the end-to-end encryption available on the latest version of WhatsApp, the messages you send and receive are not going to be shared with anyone NOT even Facebook. “Even as we coordinate more with Facebook in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else.”

They also promise that Facebook’s access to your phone number will not involve the display of your phone number and contact information for everyone to see on Facebook or the sharing of these details with others on Facebook.  “We won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and we still won’t sell, share, or give your phone number to advertisers.” There are a number of ways in which Facebook decides what advertisements are relevant to us. This is sometimes based on what we like, post and share things in Facebook. It also includes our interaction with certain websites outside Facebook.  So you notice that after browsing particular products on a website, you log into Facebook and you see ads about the products or services there. The data WhatsApp gives to Facebook about its users will also be used for similar purposes.

According to WhatsApp, the benefits of sharing data with Facebook for its users includes the following:

  1. This will help fight spam

Do you sometimes get marketing messages on WhatsApp from people you do not even know? There are tight controls on such messages via SMS so some advertisers are now resorting to WhatsApp to send their messages as there are no current laws to regulate such advertising and soliciting via instant messengers. According to WhatsApp, “by coordinating more with Facebook, they will be able to better fight spam on WhatsApp.”

  1. Facebook will give you better friend suggestions

Based on the people you contact through WhatsApp, “Facebook can offer better friend suggestions”

  1. Better targeted offers and adverts

“By connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of.

  1. Enable businesses alerts and notifications

Accepting the updated ToC’s will allow you to receive alerts and notifications from businesses. “Whether it’s hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight, many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls. We want to test these features in the next several months, but need to update our terms and privacy policy to do so.

YOU CAN OPT OUT BUT…

You have a few options:

  • stop using WhatsApp,
  • or take advantage of the partial opt out the app is offering users for a short period of time(30 days).

You cannot opt out completely, as long as you use WhatsApp,

“The Facebook family of companies will still receive and use this information for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.”

So as long as you use the messaging app, your data will be shared with Facebook.

To opt out (partially): Go to Settings > Account > Share my account info in the app. If you do not want your account information shared with Facebook to improve your Facebook ads and products experiences, you can uncheck the box or toggle the control.

 

THE FACEBOOK COMPANIES

In addition to the services offered by Facebook Inc. and Facebook Ireland Ltd, Facebook owns and operates each of the companies listed below, in accordance with their respective terms of service and privacy policies. We may share information about you within our family of companies to facilitate, support and integrate their activities and improve our services. For more information on the Facebook Companies’ privacy practices and how they treat individuals’ information, please visit the following links:

Source: facebook.com

WHAT IT MEANS FOR MARKETERS AND BUSINESSES

WhatsApp has plans to “test ways for people to communicate with businesses in the months ahead” and this should be very good news for business as it is making easier to target customers with your offers.

Before this announcement, there were rumours that WhatsApp was working on providing business accounts. The challenge for WhatsApp will be how to pull this off and maintain their stance of “still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam.” So we are watching to see how this is going to pan out.

This marriage between WhatsApp and Facebook is going to leverage the reams of data both platforms produce to pair businesses with users. “But as we announced earlier this year, we want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too”. The future holds very interesting opportunities for marketing on both platforms.

 

WRAPPING UP

For the ordinary user, the honeymoon has ended but for the marketer, these updates are a potential goldmine! Some analysts are seeing this as an opportunity for other chat apps like Telegram, Signal and WeChat to grow their user base as messaging applications have become a need as well as a habit.

WhatsApp continues to assure us that their “belief in the value of private communications is unshakeable, and they remain committed to giving you the fastest, simplest, and most reliable experience on WhatsApp.”

A lot of people believe that to be online means to sacrifice privacy. For instance on WhatsApp, your handle is your mobile number so anyone can put your number in a contact list and see you face and message you. Post your comments below and let’s continue this interesting discussion about online privacy.  Have a fruitful week!

 

 

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