#WhatsAppPrivacyPolicy And Fundamental Rights: Non-core Information And Chat Services!
Writer: Pathik Muni (Guest Author)
I have lived in the depths of technology and now dwell between the fine scripts of cyberspace. I spent over 15 years in the telecom industry, during which I engaged with large telecom operators and corporates on core digital networks. I’m a certified Data & Privacy Auditor, a cyber lawyer and co-author of the book titled ‘The Good The Bad The Cyber Buddha.
India, 29 Jan 2021 11:27 AM GMT | Updated 29 Jan 2021 11:33 AM GMTcheck update history
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The Supreme Court of India in August 2017, overruled the verdict of M.P. Sharma case of 1958 and Kharak Singh case of 1961, recognising Privacy of a person as intrinsic to life and liberty thus come under Article 21 of the constitution. The court further observed that Information Privacy is a facet to right of privacy, identifying the possibility of threats from State as well as Non-State actors, the bench recommended the Central Government to put in place a robust regime for Data Protection. As a follow on the action the Government has under Justice BN Srikrishna framed a draft, The Personal Data Protection Bill 2018. A comparable example for such regulation globally would be GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation implemented by the European Union.
Let's start with the basics as per the published policy, the official age to start using WhatsApp is 16 years. The chat conversations that you have with your friends are encrypted and WhatsApp does not read these chats. Actually, at this point, we should understand that WhatsApp is in the custody of your encrypted message packets only till such time that they are delivered to the recipient. In case the recipient device is out of coverage or switched off then WhatsApp shall store these packets and attempt their delivery for a maximum of 30 days.
Wow! I am sure you already feel relieved. Then what is this war cry about?
What we all should know is that it's not your personal chats that the company is really interested in at this stage, but the other bits of information that might be of real importance to the advertising world. Information such as your Device Details, Network Details, Browser Details, Location Details, and so on, the moot question to be asked here should be, why do they need all these non-core information? "Do they need this information for providing a chat service?"
1. All your contacts
2. Information regarding the way you use WhatsApp and its features such as messaging, calling, status, and groups.
3. Your interactions with WhatsApp business accounts including how you interact with them. Eg: Time, Frequency, and duration of your activity.
In all fairness, these 3 are required for them to operate their services but the ones that bother me are particularly designed for the marketing or advertising industry. Also, pay special attention to point 3, why would they need to learn so much about the way you interact, add a layer of points mentioned below and then look at it from the marketing industry perspective to understand the larger game behind it:
• Your device hardware model, Operating system information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information including phone number, mobile operator etc, language, time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers including unique identifiers for Facebook in particular.
• Precise location information is collected from your device each time you use any feature that requires access to your device location. A good example of that would be when you share your location or live location. But it does not mean that they would not be able to know your location if you stop using these features, they use information such as IP address and phone number to record your general location information.
• If you use WhatsApp payment services then additional information is collected and stored:
a. Payment Account
b. Payment Method
c. Shipping Details
d. Transaction Amount
So providing a free chat service looks like an incentive to mine information including sensitive information or building your "Digital Profile" to be used as a product for sale in the cyberworld. Especially after WhatsApp specifically making it clear that they are not intending to offer any advertising services currently, so no other real source of revenue except for sales of Digital Profiles.
"Is the app FREE or we are paying it with the currency of the future?" The point at discussion is much larger, "Is WhatsApp just a Data Mining asset for Facebook?" Think about WhatsApp handing over all this information to Facebook and they shall capitalize this data set for hard money on the internet world, which can be any advertiser who agrees to pay the price. This is what bothers most of the experts and lawmakers around the world. While it sounds impossible to fight against this as we are used to free service, the same is not possible for WhatsApp to implement in the EU, due to the data protection regulation.
Does this bother you? If yes, what can you do about this?
Well, of course, the easiest thing to do is hop to apps like Signal or Telegram, but the problem is not fixed rather just started, with the first being all your contacts should also be using these apps, they might also look at implementing similar policies in the future and so on. The other thing that you can do is, push this back by letting the Government know that you are not ok with companies just mining information and using it as they like. The Government is the only entity that can ensure that WhatsApp would utilize collected data to provide actual service and not become a shop for sale, where the product is your "Digital Profile".
WhatsApp is just an example, most other apps that we use daily work in a similar fashion. This Republic Day, let's pledge to practise Privacy as a fundamental right, by letting the Government know that we would like to stay in control of our constitutional right and demanding a robust act to protect our right.