Whatsapp is facing further market volatility after being challenged by the UK government over fresh privacy concerns.

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Whatsapp

Created as a fully private messaging app in 2004 by former Yahoo employees Brian Acton & Jan Koum, the Whatsapp brand has done a lot in terms of spreading the popularity of private and protected messaging on a global scale. Its original USP was that of the securest ‘end to end’ encrypted mobile messaging platform to exist. This helped skyrocket it to the number one used app of its kind globally, at tremendous pace.

In 2014, the client service of encrypted instant messaging app ‘Whatsapp’ was acquired by the Facebook group (for around 19 billion USD). With Facebook known as a huge data harvesting machine, this obviously poses issues for the key USP of whatsapp, with continued backlash from various sources coming to the fore within the past year.

The recent past of the Whatsapp brand has been somewhat volatile, with a few PR challenges embedded within the company’s media image. To check out something which is much lower in terms of volatility, you can review the best low instant spins here via Betandskill who have a comprehensive guide to help you find betting value where possible.

Whilst it was perhaps inevitable that whatsapp would be bought by someone looking to utilise its wealth of data, it’s not a good sign for them that many are now considering abandoning the app in favour of others like Telegram. There were two stages included in the widespread backlash against Whatsapp. Back in early 2021 Apple introduced its ‘privacy labels’ and in doing so, revealed that Whatsapp actually does harvest more data than rival platforms such as iMessage and Telegram. There is no proof that anything is actually done with this data, but as a company which gained its reputation within the marketplace as one which promoted total privacy, this is considered inconsequential by some. What is the reason Whatsapp needs to gather this data to begin with?

From the types of data Whatsapp collects, including device ID & contact data which appear to be pointed towards marketing and advertising activities. However, the contact data is labelled vaguely as “other purposes” which is rather disconcerting. The figure below, taken from Forbes shows the data harvested from Whatsapp and its rival apps.

The UK government has been caught up in the debate, with data watchdog officials recently reprimanding civil servants from within the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) for using Whatsapp for private communications. Private data relating to recent high profile health was communicated over Whatsapp messages and broadcasts, with the ICO pointing out that there were significant security risks attached. However, the use of the app was also deemed “lawful” by the same regulatory body. Freedom of information requests are also likely to be complicated when using partially or fully ‘data protection’ apps like Whatsapp. Concerns have been voiced that due to the nature of the Whatsapp protection of messages (including autodelete)  and other data, that FOI requests would be hard to action, leaving the function ineffective.

The IOC report “Behind the screens” detailed that DHSC used:

  • 17 private text accounts
  • 1 private Linkedin account
  • 8 private email accounts

Use of accounts this way of course includes Whatsapp and is not in line with official policy, although there is no actual rule forbidding the use of these types of IM apps at this point in time within UK government departments. The conclusion of the report was a request that the DHSC improves its “handling of personal information through private correspondence channels and ensure information is kept secure”

Pushbacks from within the Department for Health have cited the requirement for quick and efficient messaging within high pressure health events in recent times, which was enabled by using the Whatsapp platform.

This investigation comes after the National Health Service (NHS) ‘scandal’ in the UK in 2018, where thousands of front line NHS staff were embroiled in issues after widespread use of the Whatsapp application in official day to day communications. Upwards of half a million staff were thought to have used the app inappropriately with 29,000 facing disciplinary action for doing so. In contrast to the DHSC, the use of whatsapp within official NHS communications is prohibited. 

After this, in 2019, there was the infamous ‘snooping scandal’ whereby Israeli surveillance technology group ‘NSO’ injected malware onto mobile devices via the voice call function. This resulted in a lawsuit being filed by Whatsapp in October of 2019 on the basis that NSO group had violated the Computer Use and Fraud Act. Malware was targeted at several human rights campaigners and other figures who have been involved with or spoken against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. NSO cited that the targets were a ‘threat to national security’ in Israel but these claims were dismissed multiple times by judges and the suit was taken to trial.

The Whatsapp brand then, is not without controversy and certainly not without its flaws. It remains banned for various reasons in multiple global states including China, Brazil, Uganda and UAE. The circumstances are slightly different in each, with a total ban in China, whereas in UAE the voice and video aspects are prohibited. Brazil endures a stop start relationship with the app with multiple instances of temporary bans. Users in Uganda are required to pay a daily rate to access the apps services. 

The usership, however, remains strong. There are an estimated 2 billion global users of Whatsapp and it is proving to be a useful asset to Meta group since its acquisition.

 

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