Whatsapp or not
Mita Srinivasan
10x Industry

Whatsapp or not

Businesses use Whatsapp increasingly for communicating with stakeholders be it investors, suppliers, customers etc. SME10x explored how businesses are reacting to its recent policy announcements and if they are making any changes.

Privacy and security rules are front and centre with recent controversy around Whatsapp data regulations. Without really seeing what the fine print is, how often do we just click “accept” and move on. With the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018, data privacy has definitely made us sit up and take notice. Whatsapp’s earlier announcement to the changes in their data privacy policy has given users a bit of a reprieve till May 15 to make changes but they still will share data with Facebook if you stay.

According to a statement from a Whatsapp spokesperson, “WhatsApp wants to make it easier for people to both make a purchase and get help from a business directly on WhatsApp. To further increase transparency, we updated the privacy policy to describe that going forward businesses can choose to receive secure hosting services from our parent company, Facebook, to help manage their communications with their customers on WhatsApp. Though of course, it remains up to the user whether or not they want to message with a business on WhatsApp.”

“The update does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook and does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world. WhatsApp remains deeply committed to protecting people's privacy. We are communicating directly with users through WhatsApp about these changes, so they have time to review the new policy over the course of the next month.”

Twitter conversations around Whatsapp changes
Twitter conversations around Whatsapp changes
Supplied by Anavizio

News and developments around Whatsapp’s privacy policy changes dominated social media. Anavizio, a social listening company, took a quick high-level look at Twitter conversations from three key Middle Eastern markets – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – to get a sense of how the topic is evolving in the regional social media sphere. Using the Pulsar audience intelligence and social listening platform, focusing on conversations over the past 30 days around mentions of Whatsapp’s privacy policy and calls to delete or stop using the app as well as mentions of the Signal and Telegram apps, the most touted alternatives.

Fares Ghneim, Director for insights and strategy at Anavizio, commented, “The first thing that stands out when looking at the data is the sudden rise in conversation volumes in early January. Conversations about Whatsapp peaked around 11-12 January which, based on anecdotal evidence, is around the time users started receiving notifications to accept the app’s new privacy policy. Mentions of Signal increased in parallel, particularly in Egypt and the UAE, with the significantly lower conversation volumes about Telegram indicating it is less popular among regional users.”

According to the research, Whatsapp saw a second conversation spike in the middle of the month, and, in the case of Saudi Arabian users, a much larger spike – when Facebook announced the roll-out of the new Whatsapp privacy policy will be delayed by three months.

I know that many have explored alternatives, particularly Signal and Telegram, as alternatives. There is research out there for choosing alternatives along with pros and cons of using each platform but the consensus seems to be that it is still early days to switch and that most businesses (in this region at least) are waiting and watching.

Kate Midttun, Managing Director, Acorn Strategy, said, “Obviously, many users are exploring alternatives in the aftermath of WhatsApp's policy updates. There's a clear concern among users about privacy, and unless WhatsApp quickly addresses these concerns, we can predict that businesses will be looking elsewhere, considering they are more affected by these updates. This morning WhatsApp issued a clarification of their policy, assuaging fears that their private messages are now monitored and shared with Facebook or other parties. Will this do it? I guess we'll have to wait and see.”

Roberto d’Ambrosio, CEO at Axiory Global, agrees. According to d’Ambrosio, the latest updates are actually an element of clarity. The way data are used, the way they are shared with other application like Messenger, Facebook, Instagram are now exposed. Users are now aware of the extent of what they share on WhatsApp is used to generate business, and this has risen concerns among many. “I believe that WhatsApp will continue to lead the sector and this cannot be ignored by business. They will still look and be present on other platforms though as there is no reason to restrict their communication strategy to WhatsApp. Still, the interaction between all Facebook related platform is a powerful combination to target the right audience for business strategies, which has no real competitors at the moment.”

Whatsapp did issue a clarification and shared their tips on security. “The safety and security of you and your messages are really important to us. However, just like regular SMS or phone calls, it’s possible for other WhatsApp users who have your phone number to contact you. We advise all users never to share their WhatsApp SMS verification code with others, not even friends or family. We also recommend that all users set up 2-step verification.”

Renjan George, Managing Director of DVCOM technologies, added, “The main thing is these privacy policies are open to interpretation as they are made by highly paid employees who make them as complex as possible to benefit the business. Unfortunately, we do not have anyone to interpret the nitty gritty. So, there will be a general wait and watch till the deadline. However there has also been some mass exodus and I think there is a strong case when it comes to sensitive business data that organisations will think of using another secure app. Personally, I will still keep WhatsApp as all my personal contacts are there but for business purposes I will be slowly migrating to a more secure platform.”

Personally, I too will wait and watch to see how insidious this data policy gets.