“Were supposed to”, because thousands of users strongly disapproved this imposition on the use of their data, leaving the app and leading Whatsapp to partially turn back on its decision.
Following the announcement, Google’s Play Store reported download statistics in contrast with the normal trend: the downloads of alternative messaging applications, more privacy-friendly than WhatsApp, increased sharply. Telegram recorded more than 500 million downloads in just a few days, while Signal, previously unknown to many, reached 10 million downloads within a few weeks.
But what has triggered all this? And above all, to what extent users’ fears about the dangers to their privacy are justified?
Analyzing the pop-up containing the new privacy terms, the trenchant approach is evident: we are dealing with a “forced consent”.
We know that consent, in order to comply with the conditions set out in the GDPR, must be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous, as well as collected by means of a request that shall be presented in a manner which is clearly distinguishable from the other matters, in a intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language, as stated in Article 7, par. 2 of the GDPR.
The first manifest communication error by WhatsApp
The sharing of personal data processed by WhatsApp with Facebook
Another thorny issue that caused confusion among the users is the sharing of personal data processed by WhatsApp with Facebook.
- offer fast and reliable messages and calls and analyse performances;
- ensure security, and integrity of data on WhatsApp, by removing spam accounts and thwarting inappropriate activity;
- connect the user experience on WhatsApp with other products offered by other companies of the Group.
WhatsApp shares with Facebook some pieces of information about the device and personal data of the user including – by way of example – the verified phone number provided when signing up to WhatsApp, the operating system version, the application version, the country code of the mobile number and some pieces of information on the use of the app (such as last access, date of registration, used functions and their usage frequency).
The views of the Italian Data Protection Authority
For this reason, the Italian DPA decided to raise the issue before the European Data Protection Board (which includes representatives from all EEA data protection authorities), and at the same time did not rule out the taking of urgent measures to protect Italian users and enforce compliance with personal data protection legislation.
Following these complaints, WhatsApp – through the publication of some FAQs on its website –attempted to clarify what would change and what, instead, would remain unchanged with the updates.
Whatsapp explained that was forced to clarify that “Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read your personal messages or hear your calls with your friends, family and co-workers on WhatsApp, because they are protected by end-to-end encryption”.
The whole issue demands serious attention on the increasing awareness of consumers towards the protection of their personal data and, therefore, on the importance of paying due attention to this matter and to the ways in which companies communicate with their products or their services users. Transparency and compliance with the regulations are distinctive traits that strengthen the users’ trust in organizations. A breach of this trust relationship can have serious consequences, as made evident by the Whatsapp case.
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