A few weeks ago, when WhatsApp users began to receive a notice that warned that the terms and conditions of the instant messaging application will change As of February 8, multiple questions began to arise regarding its operation and the nature of its regulatory change.
Concerns about data privacy, about the free service and, especially, what link will be established with Facebook – and with the other companies owned by American businessman Mark Zuckerberg – arose among users, which was evidenced in the strong demand that provoked in the Russian social network Telegram, which fulfills similar functions.
However, it is possible that it is nothing new, says computer security expert José Luis López, director of the computer security company ESET in Uruguay. “What is most confusing is the notice that WhatsApp users are receiving, which is basically something generic but also generates a bit of an alert and does not add anything new in the background,” he explains to Sputnik.
There is nothing free in life, especially on the Internet
The main issue within the changes in the terms and conditions of WhatsApp is that, now, the data of its users will “cross” with those of the social network Facebook, Instagram, and the other companies owned by Zuckerberg.
Broadly speaking, this means that this network of networks will have the possibility of exchanging the data that a person provides in each one of them, in order to increase their respective income, mainly from the sale of advertising, which is their main main source of profit, López illustrates.
“There is nothing free in life, especially on the internet,” he emphasizes. Like any other in the network, WhatsApp is not a free service at all, he reaffirms, but it is a “tool to make money”, in this case from the sale of users’ personal data to companies that later They will offer them publicity, a fact that, according to him, the general public tends to forget.
However, this happened before. The first time WhatsApp is downloaded, the application asks the user to accept the classic “I have read and accept the terms and conditions” for its use. What happens is that, in general, “a lot of people ignore it, and very little read it,” says López.
Since 2014 WhatsApp has been owned by Facebook, after Zuckerberg’s company acquired it for a value of 16,000 million dollars. Since then, by default, both social networks have their data crossed, with each other and with the rest of the companies owned by the entrepreneur. The central difference, López remarks, is that before the conditions gave the user the option of whether to allow their data to be shared with Facebook or not, an option that will no longer be available in the new privacy terms.
Although the user could choose not to link the data from one social network to another, most were doing it by default, López explains, so, in essence, “it is not something new, it is normal: what happens is that now in the conditions of WhatsApp it will be made explicit “.
Federico Kirshbaum, a security expert and member of the annual conference on Argentine computer security Ekoparty, analyzes it in the same way. In summary, what changes is that now the company explains in detail, —and therefore it is legally protected—, what kind of data it is going to use, under the premise of “consent: what I collect from your information, you have to know “he tells Sputnik.
What is that information? In short, your name and surname, the device (s) from which you use the service, your telephone number, your contacts, your location and, in networks such as Facebook and Instagram, all that content with which the user interacts and on the that expresses interest — music, art, animal pages, or whatever — which will then determine what kind of advertising will be suggested to you on these social networks.
Even so, one of the points that the company has emphasized in clarifying is that the personal messages from users They are not, in any way, visible to them or to other companies. “With end-to-end encryption, we cannot see your conversations or private calls, neither can Facebook. We are committed to this technology and we are committed to defending it globally,” WhatsApp chief William stressed on January 8. Cathcart, on his Twitter account.
Why do the terms and conditions of WhatsApp change?
It is true that the crossing of data generates greater income for related companies, and it makes sense to attribute a purely commercial purpose to the obligatory nature of the acceptance of these new terms and conditions so that the user allows, yes or yes, to transfer their data to these purposes.
However, if this happened before, and anyway the vast majority of users authorized the application to use their data, it makes sense to ask why to make this notice explicit, with all the commotion that was expected to occur. In this sense, Kirshbaum assures that what happens goes beyond a simple “explanation” of the company’s policy.
In 2015, the illicit use of data from the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica obtained through Facebook was published for the first time in the British newspaper The Guardian, a scandal that would be completed in 2019, with the Netflix premiere of the documentary Nothing is Private, where the actions of both companies are developed during the campaigns for Donald Trump in the United States, Brexit in Europe, and several others.
When the investigations around Facebook began, Kirshbaum says, they “lowered the profile” and stopped or at least reduced the data crossing. With this message, “now they tell you: ‘we could cross them’, which means ‘we are going to cross them’,” he says.
What is the law that pressured WhatsApp like?
There is a chapter in this story that computer security specialists are very aware of, but about which little has been said in the press. It is the General Data Protection Regulation (RGPD), approved in 2016 and which began to apply in 2018 in the European Union.
“The Regulation is an essential measure to strengthen the fundamental rights of people in the digital age and facilitate economic activity, since it clarifies the rules applicable to companies and public bodies in the digital single market. Furthermore, the existence of a single rule ends fragmentation across national systems and unnecessary administrative burdens “, define the European Union.
Broadly speaking, the legislation not only requires the explicit use of personal data of services such as WhatsApp and Facebook to the user, but also prohibits the crossing of data for these applications. In fact, WhatsApp works for the countries of the block in a very different way: it has its own subsidiary based in Ireland to provide its services, in charge of the Irish Data Protection Commission, and its new provision, therefore, will not apply in the countries of the European Union.
If you go to the WhatsApp website, to the Security and Privacy section, its operation is explicit for the users of the block: “Currently, Facebook does not use the information from your WhatsApp account to improve experiences with Facebook products or provide you with more relevant ads on the platform. “
However, this type of legislation serves as “pressure” for the use of the application in other places, and requires greater transparency towards users, says Kirshbaum. “They are legally covered,” he sums up.
In Latin America, the interest in legislating on this matter is not usually among the priorities of governments, but Kirshbaum argues that once a country makes the determination to protect users in their data protection – especially if they are countries “that move the needle” at the commercial level – that generates an influence effect on smaller ones, since business ties between countries imply data conditions.
Therefore, an eventual law in countries of influence may lead “to a place” of greater data protection policies at the regional level. With the European Union regulation, he supposes, in Latin America, eventually “there will probably be a reaction” in that way.