A significant amount of Whatsapp users have moved to alternate applications such as Signal, amid a controversial update to its terms of service.

Previously, Whatsapp was to officially implement its new terms on February 8, 2021. However, following the scale of the exodus, it will now delay the implementation.

The updated terms of service were regarded as vague and hazy by users, who were discontent with the new level of privacy. The policy states: “WhatsApp must receive or collect some information in order to operate, offer, improve, understand, individualise, support and market our services. This happens, for example, when you install and use our services or access them.”

This policy would not be rolled out for EU countries, as the EU has strong data protection laws, particularly the General Data Protection Regulation (EU). 

In the initial weeks of January, messaging service Signal gained 7.5 million users globally. Following business magnate Elon Musk’s endorsement of the software, its popularity surged further.

App Annie’s director of market insights, Amir Ghodrati called Whatsapp’s new venture a ‘public relations disaster’, according to The Guardian.

“Messaging apps that provide privacy features saw the greatest engagement growth in [the first half of] 2020. These apps saw on average 30% more active users than the alternatives. Apps like Signal, Telegram, Wickr, and WhatsApp offer privacy features ranging from end-to-end encrypted data transfer to ‘self-destructing messages,’” he said.

Explaining the details of the new policy, director of research and policy for the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Shmyla Khan told The Correspondent: “Given that there is no data protection law in Pakistan, unlike European countries where the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) prevails, Pakistani users have to accept the terms and conditions of the privacy policy laid out by WhatsApp and do not have the option of opting out.”

Social media giant Facebook, which owns Whatsapp, has had numerous allegations against it regarding security breaches and privacy. This is, thus, only one event in a broad series of others, which has placed the company under scrutiny. Recently, Facebook had to pay a record $5 billion fine to settle privacy concerns. Additionally, it was also urged to institute an independent privacy committee that its chief executive Mark Zuckerberg would have no autonomy over.

Following the news of Whatsapp’s update, Federal Minister for Science and Technology (MoST) Fawad Chaudhry, on January 10, said that the MoST is considering “introducing a strong data protection law to protect citizens’ privacy.” The minister elaborated that such a law would allow for wider consultation with the government “instead of a unilateral approach such [as these] policy changes.”


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