WhatsApp and Data Sharing


 Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas ,
Lead Architect

Background

This week I've seen lots of posts on social media platforms about the changes taking place on WhatsApp with the company stating that going forwards they will be sharing user details with Facebook.

Strangely, most of the complaints I've seen have been appearing on Facebook. So these are people who already have and share lots of information with Facebook and are worried about some extra WhatsApp details being shared.

What's WhatsApp Changing

The user data that could be shared with Facebook includes WhatsApp account registration, phone numbers, transaction data, service-related information, interaction information, mobile device information, IP address, and ‘other information identified… or obtained upon notice to you or based on your consent.’

Facebook’s reasons for requiring the data aren’t entirely clear, but Facebook claims it is for ‘understanding how our services or [WhatsApp’s] are used’, ‘improving their services’, ‘making suggestions for you’, ‘personalizing features and content’ and ‘showing relevant offers and ads across the Facebook Company Products

Something For Nothing

Let's boil this down to the basics. We all want something for nothing.

We want to use the excellent capabilities of WhatsApp to message, call, send pictures to our friends and colleagues, but we want to do that for free.

I like to get things for free, but I realise there is always some form of payment to be made. There has to be a quid-pro-quo.

There is a Cost to Pay

The costs of running these services is not cheap, we are talking about large scale enterprise level services, with disaster recovery, spread around the world.

You don't run an operation of that size for £10 a month. It costs millions, and we have to be realistic, the companies who run these services for us, don't do it because they want to provide a public service.

They provide it because they want to make a profit. They want to give their shareholders dividends, they want to pay their staff.

I'll say it again, there has to be a quid-pro-quo here.

Benefits of Data Sharing

How many people use Google Maps or Waze. If you do use these, you will see data around traffic flow/traffic jams. This information is coming from data sharing that comes from mobile phones and traffic cameras.

If you go onto Google to look for a shop or gym, you'll see against the company listing the opening hours and the 'traffic' flow in the shop or gym so you can see what time of day they are busy and make plans to go at quieter times.

Advertising is another area where data sharing is used and this is one of the predominant cases where Facebook wants the data. They want to provide better targeted advertising to you through all of their platforms.

I think most people don't like adverts on Facebook or TV, but that's the way these services are funded and allow them to provide their services to us, as end users for free. I'd also prefer more targeted adverts if I'm going to get them than for ones that have no relevance.

I know some people find it creepy that they get adverts about something they've done somewhere else on the web, but the cookie principle of storing information and using it elsewhere has been a fundamental part of the internet for 20 years.

Should You Be Worried

Many of us, these days are concerned about our privacy and rightly so, but if you are on the internet, on social media, using a mobile phone, even driving a car you are constantly being tracked and monitored in some way or another. This data is powerful and is a way of making a substantial amount of money for the service providers.

The use of WhatsApp data doesn't worry me, there are many more details available on me elsewhere, just take the fact that I'm on LinkedIn, reading and posting articles means so much of my data is being used by LinkedIn.

If you are really worried, let's look at the figures involved. There are 2 Billion, yes, 2,000,000,000 users on WhatsApp. Do you really think there is someone behind a screen somewhere looking at your data and seeing the gossip that you've written about someone? No there's not. There is a big computer behind the scenes that is analysing, collating and learning from this data to provide information to other systems so that they can process it.

My View

I think the changes are very minor and have been blown out of proportion by the mainstream press and also in some place by elements of the Technical/IT press.

I'll continue to use WhatsApp, however if you feel uncomfortable with the data sharing then move to one of the other messaging Apps e.g. Signal, but don't be surprised if they and others move to sharing data as well to keep themselves funded and provide the service to you.

If you really are worried about your data and it's use. I suggest getting rid of you mobile phones, laptops, wifi, remove all your social media accounts etc. Oh and move to a desert island.

The world we live in now is all about data and how it can be used to improve our lives. Yes, this data can be used in nefarious ways but overall I think the chances of this happening is very small when you are one of 7.8 billion people in the world. The truth be told, you are not that important for anyone to spy on you in most cases.

Big Brother (Big Data) is watching you, but it isn't really that interested in you. At least not at a personal level.

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