WhatsApp ad in newspapers is deceptive, spreading misinformation, say tech policy experts
Experts say the ad misleads users as WhatsApp collects massive metadata which can still undermine privacy by revealing sensitive information about users. The ad has made privacy only about messaging
WhatsApp metadata means information on which numbers were contacted which over WhatsApp, when, and for how long, as well as the IP addresses. It can also include location and contacts data
WhatsApp released this advertisement in papers to instill trust in the messaging app. “But the ad fails to do just that. It does not state what data are collected and how they intend to process the data that are collected. They are simply repeating the same things – the app is end-to-end encrypted, private messages are not shared with Facebook. If they really wanted to instill trust in people, they have to explicitly state what they are collecting rather than publishing these deceptive ads,” asserted Tripti Jain, a lawyer and researcher with Internet Democracy Project. Facebook needs to be absolutely clear about the data being collected, how is it being shared and what it is being used for.
The advertisement mentions that WhatsApp protects your privacy because messages are encrypted, groups remain private and because they cannot see your shared location. All the three points are obfuscating the truth.
“It is misleading because while WhatsApp chats are encrypted, they still get your log information, the hardware you are using, and they know who you are talking to. They also know your phone number and IP address. The ad skims over these details,” added Jain.
When Facebook and WhatsApp mention privacy in the advertisement, the company wants it to mean private messages. In doing so, it is attempting to change the definition of privacy. “This ad is deceptive because Facebook is restricting privacy to end-to-end encryption of messages. Privacy means users do not want Facebook to know which Wi-Fi network they are using, their IP address, who they are talking to and for how long. Privacy is not only about messages. Why does a company need to know my log-in information? This is a major concern,” argued Singh.
They are spreading misinformation in disguise. “The fact that I have to be integrated into the ecosystem though I do not aim to use WhatsApp Business is problematic. Anyone who has to use WhatsApp, has to give the company access to their contact list whether they use WhatsApp Business or not. If all the businesses are on FB, a single user does not have a bargaining power,” said Jain.
In the ad, they want it to appear as though the policy update is only for WhatsApp Business. But that is a lie. If you are using WhatsApp, your information will be shared. They have not clarified what exactly will be collected and shared.
In 2016, users had the choice of opting-out of sharing data with Facebook, but the option is no longer there. When WhatsApp says that it does not share your contacts with Facebook or any other app, users are not sure what this means. WhatsApp has said in the past that the contacts on WhatsApp are not matched with the contacts on Facebook. “There is no way to verify it,” pointed out Singh.
This advertisement adds to the confusion and in convoluted sense it obfuscates more than clarifying. A regular citizen does not understand these privacy policies and there is always a cost to understanding what these policies mean.
“We need to ask why a digital communications company has put out ads in newspapers instead of on social media. They haven’t put out anything on social media. If there is a miscommunication about their policies, shouldn’t they be using their digital platforms to put out the information instead of using newspapers,” asked Jain.
When we compare Facebook’s huge data collection with the other messaging app Signal, it becomes clear that Signal only collects the first time you logged into their system and the last time you were online on the app.
National Herald has sent all these questions to the Facebook Chats team, which handles WhatsApp communication. This article will be updated if and when they respond.