WhatsApp’s New Privacy Policy And Its Implications For Nigeria
By Inyene Ibanga

TECH DIGEST – The discovery of data as the new oil to power the global economy has directed more attention to the issue of data governance. Concerns over data management or mismanagement have heightened following the privacy policy update announced by social media platform, WhatsApp.

WhatsApp’s controversial decision to share users’ information with its parent company, Facebook, is generating strident conversations in the media.

The change in the terms of use and privacy policy has sparked a major uproar by users across both the traditional and social media spaces.

In fact, WhatsApp has been sharing some data with Facebook since 2016, after it was acquired by the latter in 2014. This 2021 privacy policy means that the instant messaging platform wants to increase the volume of user information it will be sharing with the other entities in its parent company.
The new policy review is aimed at monetising WhatsApp to enable Facebook and its other apps market their business services. As the main beneficiary, Facebook would capitalise on the information shared from WhatsApp to boost its revenue through targeted advertisement.

Using the data harvested from the instant messaging company, other businesses would benefit by tracking users across all related platforms, in order to sell their products and services.

In Nigeria, the new privacy policy has succeeded in alerting the app users to a practice that has been going on for about five years now. But this realisation is raising suspicion among users in Africa and other affected regions in the world.
However, the instant messaging platform has explained that the policy update is not mandatory, as users have a choice to either accept or reject the policy. It also explained that users are free to delete their WhatsApp accounts at any time.

WhatsApp has emphasised that users’ chats and calls are safe, as they remain end-to-end encrypted and no third party like Facebook or even the operators of WhatsApp can read their messages.

Going forward, users will be repeatedly reminded to accept the new policy whenever they open the app, and when they still choose to not accept it, over time, WhatsApp will cease to be useful to them and it will eventually becomes totally useless to those categories of users.

Interestingly, those who accept the new WhatsApp policy will not notice any difference in their messaging experience. For users who refuse to accept the policy, their accounts will be deleted after 120 days of inactivity or staying unconnected.

The WhatsApp accounts that do not accept the new terms will gradually lose many of their features or experience limited functionality. Such users will no longer be able to access their chat lists, make calls or send messages across the platform.

However, users in Europe do not have to accept the new terms of service. This is so because by virtue of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), they have the right to opt-out of the privacy policy.

The GDPR shields users from sharing data and grants them the power to reject WhatsApp’s new terms and conditions. Under this law, individuals hold control over their personal data and how this is managed.

In Nigeria, WhatsApp users do not have a choice and have to comply with the new privacy policy. As such, industry stakeholders have expressed their reservations over the skewed nature of the privacy policy upgrade across geographies.

Reacting to the new privacy policy, the information technology (IT) sector regulator, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) issued an advisory addressing the concerns of Nigerians over the policy review.

NITDA acknowledged WhatsApp as the leading social media platform of choice for millions of Nigerians who use the app for business, social, educational, and other purposes.

Flowing from its engagement with Facebook Incorporated, the agency advised that while Nigerians can explore other platforms with similar features, they should be guided by data-sharing practices, privacy, ease of use, and other terms.

It urged users to limit the sharing of sensitive personal information on private messaging and social media platforms, as business considerations have taken prominence over the initial promise of privacy and security.

The IT regulator questioned the disparity between the privacy standards applicable in Europe and those of the rest of the world, and assured of ongoing engagement with Facebook to ensure compliance with the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR).
In view of the foregoing, NITDA should expedite action on plans to organise a hackathon for Nigerians to develop digital solutions that would serve as functional alternatives to existing global social platforms.

The national regulator has to cooperate with privacy rights groups and experts to escalate the coordinated sensitisation of users, and for government to urgently act against policies that seek to undermine data security and privacy.
It is imperative for Nigeria’s legislative and regulatory authorities to complete work on the draft Data Protection Bill 2020 as a legal bulwark to ensure uniformity in the protection of data of WhatsApp users.

The African Union (AU) should lead the conversation towards mobilising member countries to enact and ratify the African Cybersecurity Convention in order to create a continental framework similar to the GDPR for Europe.

Accordingly, such national and continental data protection structures are vital for setting a standard in the protection of data privacy across countries on the continent.

Inyene Ibanga is Editor TechDigest.ng and writes from Wuye District, Abuja.

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