The reality behind the WhatsApp drama

The lack of online privacy is a hot topic these days. What we have known for years, as security professionals, is finally being revealed (again) to the public: online privacy is a myth. News outlets & social networks are always looking for a new buzz and it seems bringing a new way to scare you is working great.

Whatsapp is trending, it’s being talked about by millions on every platform. Should I leave it to use something else? But what about all my contacts?

Is this just another case of the little boy who cried wolf? How many people caught wind of the news and instantly thought the worst? That Mark Zuckerberg guy, can’t be trusted…

Online privacy issues are nothing new. I remember the end the 90s, explaining to my clients that their activities were logged and that every time they were using internet, someone, somewhere was collecting data. At the same time, I was also raising awareness with family and friends about their supermarket loyalty cards, explaining to them how data was being collected.

In the end they did not care. The majority of users don’t worry about what they don’t see or doesn’t have an immediate impact.

Almost 20 years later, we face a new “privacy drama” every 6 months. WhatsApp announced the changes to its privacy policy, and we see a wave of users rushing to Signal, who is experiencing a lot of technical issues. Much to do about nothing.

 So what actually gets shared with Facebook? According to Whatsapp’s FAQ:

  • Your account registration information (such as your phone number)
  • Transaction data
  • Service-related information
  • Information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using their Services
  • Mobile device information
  • Your IP address
  • May include other information identified in the Privacy Policy section entitled ‘Information We Collect’ or obtained upon notice to you or based on your consent.

How does this change from the policy currently in place? Let me break it down for you:

1-     If you are in Europe, like me, this does not affect you at all.

2-     If you did not opt out in 2016 when WhatsApp began sharing data with Facebook by default, nothing changes

3-     If you did opt out, you now have to agree to the aforementioned data to be shared with Facebook in order to continue using the service.

4-     Your conversations (pictures, videos, media, links, etc) are still entirely encrypted and only you and the recipient of the message can read them.

The truth is you are already providing a lot of your personal data online through various platforms as well as any loyalty program. Companies have deployed and are constantly developing new ways of collecting and corroborating data through Artificial Intelligence. They do not care about the messages you send; they care about what you may like to buy.

As we learned in The Social Dilemma, all social media platforms are working towards one goal: Maximizing and monetizing screen time. This is the game and as users, we’re all playing it. The only thing that really happened here is that we were all reminded of the rules.