cyber safety whatsapp new terms and conditions

A lot has been said, shared and speculated about over the updated terms and conditions for the app most of us have been using for communication. WhatsApp recently informed users that their terms of service had been updated and that you will no longer be able to use the app if you don’t accept these updates. This has created such a frenzy and it has been fascinating to see how people respond to what they ‘hear’ without actually taking the time to read these terms and interpret them for themselves.

What to remember before downloading any app

So before I delve deeper into the impact of these new WhatsApp terms, I would first like to recommend the following going forward for ALL apps you use:

  • Always remember that the developers and owners of the apps we use can change their platforms and rules at any time. In fact, they can even cancel the service and we need to accept that we don’t have control over this. Don’t rely on these apps to become your main source of information or storage facility. Invest in and use multiple solutions to store photos and to create secure back-ups in case a social platform like Instagram or Facebook stops operating.

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  • If you have the opportunity to use an app for FREE, then you need to realise that we are, in some way or form, adding value to ensure the success and sustainability of the app. These are businesses and most of them are in it to generate money. Whether it’s by sharing our data or allowing advertisers to communicate with us – we’re actually working together to keep the engine moving.
  • Before you install an app, read the Ts&Cs and visit the app’s website to familiarise yourself with how the app and the managing company can use your data. Look specifically at:
    • Privacy – understand how their privacy settings work and select the correct settings to protect yourself as far as possible. Who will be able to connect with you through the platform and how safe is it for your child to use?
    • Data which may be collected and linked to your identity – Who will they share your data with, what type of information will they be sharing and how often will this be done? Will they monitor your behaviour and the way you use their app and how will these statistics be used to benefit you and their company?
    • Ownership – who owns the content you share on their platform? Do they have the right to repurpose your content (posts, videos, images etc) to create their own advertisements or campaigns?

Should I leave WhatsApp or stay?

Now, let’s put the spotlight on WhatsApp and what you need to know in order to make an informed decision as the whether you’ll be migrating to another chat app or not.

The Facebook group owns WhatsApp (since 2014) together with other apps such as Instagram, Facebook (as you know it) and Messenger and has been transparent by communicating this update to their rules. Yes, they have pushed users into a corner to accept these terms by a certain date and if you don’t accept these new rules, you’ll no longer have access to the platform they are providing for free.

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This rocks the boat and gives everyone the opportunity to look at the various options available.

To make an informed decision, visit the AppStore or Google Play Store, search for the app and compare the following about the apps people are currently talking about:

  1. Age restriction
    1. WhatsApp is 12+
    2. Telegram is 17+
    3. Signal is 12+
  2. Are the messages encrypted? This means the message is scrambled when it leaves your phone and unscrambled when it lands in your friend’s inbox. This ensures that no one else can read the message. All three of these apps use encryption, however some cyber security experts have noted that Signal is more secure than Telegram.
  3. Where are your messages stored? If they are stored on the app’s servers it could be at risk. If the messages are only stored on your device or in your personal app account, then only you have access to it.
  4. What you need to use the app for? Is this a professional or social communication tool, or to do transactions? There might be better suited apps available used by your company or the school might prefer a specific app. If your friends decide to use another app, then you’ll need to talk about it and agree on how you will be communicating going forward.
  5. Advertising spam? WhatsApp states the following on their website HERE. “No third-party banner ads. We still do not allow third-party banner ads on WhatsApp.”
  1. The choices you have. If you are an existing user, you can choose not to have your WhatsApp account information shared with Facebook to improve your Facebook ads and product experiences. Existing users who accept the updated Terms and Privacy Policy will have an additional 30 days to make this choice by going to Settings > Account.”
  2. Is it locally relevant? We do not have all the functionality available in South Africa like doing transactions through WhatsApp. The new Ts&Cs apply mostly to these services, which are more business focused, like ordering and delivering products in catalogues.
  3. How is your data being used? Data which may be collected and linked to your identity – scroll down to the bottom, find App Privacy and click on “Data linked to you”

Include screen shots here…

WhatsAPP vs Telegram vs Signal policies

The bigger concern and things to remember:

The apps are not bad, and the internet is not evil. It’s how we use these platforms and what we personally share that puts us at more risk. Remember that the ‘screen shot’ and ‘forwarding of messages’ functions have had devasting consequences on people.

Other popular apps such as Google Maps, health apps, search engines (Google, Safari, Firefox etc.) and YouTube also track your behaviour in order to supply you with more personalised information. Now, whether this gives you the chills or not, we are living in a connected world where we need to operate both on- and offline.

If we want to enjoy the amazing benefits technology offers us (think of online banking, online shopping and Facetime) then we need to realise that the companies who develop these solutions for us need data to innovate and create better options.

I will also caution you to be careful when sharing personal information, however we all need to be willing to add some value to these services we use.

Without realising it, we are already sharing so much information on public platforms where it can be seen by countless people and systems. In this case, with WhatsApp, specified data will be shared within the company for specific reasons as outlined.

So take a deep breath, empower yourself and let’s all become responsible digital citizens by not believing everything we read, by not spreading fake news and fear-driven messages and by setting a good example for our children.

Connect with me on Instagram @RianetteL and on Facebook at @DigitalParentingWithRianette Visit www.rianette.com for more information.

Rianette Leibowitz of Cyber Wellness with Rianette
Passionate about sharing messages. TV & Radio Presenter, ChangeAgent for SaveTNet Cyber Safety, Accredited Public Relations Professional