Features, Insight, Opinion

Data Privacy Day: WhatsApp Privacy Insight by Toni El Inati

By Toni El Inati – RVP Sales, META & CEE, Barracuda Networks

This data privacy day, I commend the government agencies, media, businesses, industry experts and social influencers whose efforts have made customer privacy a headline topic today. In a world where we as consumers have become accustomed to having everything instantly available with just a few clicks, I encourage people to take the added time to think about the implications of their actions. As digital services become inextricably linked to our everyday lives, protecting our digital identities should be a top priority.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the implication of the recent WhatsApp Privacy news that’s been making headline.

Implication for Users:

  • The recent WhatsApp privacy saga highlights a fundamental truth about the ‘free’ social media and communication tools that we as a society have become so dependent on today. What consumers need to understand is that while there is no financial cost associated with such services, we are in effect trading our privacy for the convenience and entertainment they offer.
  • At the time of its launch, WhatsApp had a very strongly stated privacy policy. But following its acquisition by Facebook – for a headline grabbing US$19 billion – it is no surprise that monetisation is a priority for the platform. These developments demonstrate the need for users to be constantly vigilant and understand that policies and practices are subject to change. After all, the companies that offer these services are for-profit businesses, and their bottom lines can therefore take precedence over their users’ best interests.

Learnings for businesses:

  • The media backlash and mass exodus of users to alternatives such as Signal and Telegram highlight just how much of a concern consumer privacy has become. This awareness can be credited to government initiatives such as GDPR, or its regional equivalents such as the data protection laws implemented in the UAE and Bahrain, and a greater awareness about cybersecurity in general.
  • It raises question about how data is being used by governments and businesses and whether these practices are in consumers’ best interest. Ultimately transparency and freedom of choice will be key as the media has become more vocal in bringing such security concerns to the limelight.
  • The WhatsApp privacy issue also highlights the influence of social media and other channels as ‘sources of truth’ for today’s consumer. In little to no time, consumers can form rock solid perceptions based on information that is often speculative, incomplete, or even inaccurate.
  • This rapid and decisive action taken by consumers in deleting their WhatsApp accounts in droves is a good lesson for businesses that simply having a majority share of a market segment doesn’t mean consumers will be willing to accept a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to policy changes. The digital age means startups can rapidly respond to customer pain points and bring attractive alternatives to market at unprecedented speed and scale.
  • Finally, businesses need to pay increasing attention to how they protect the data of their end customers as breaches and the resultant data loss can significantly impact customer’s perception and trust in the brand. With cyber criminals becoming increasingly creative with their attacks, organisations need to explore solutions such as malware and ransomware, and effective backup and recovery solutions.
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