SA’s privacy watchdog accuses WhatsApp of double standards
The new policy allows the Facebook-owned messaging app to share certain data with Facebook – an option that users previously had a chance to opt out of.
In the letter, the IR said it had prohibited Facebook from sharing any contact information it collects from WhatsApp users without its authorisation.
After receiving no response from Facebook South Africa, the IR has vowed to take further action.
According to the watchdog, the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) has a privacy regime which is very similar to the EU regime, and, therefore, it believes WhatsApp should adopt the EU policy in SA and other countries that have similar regimes.
The regulator remains of the view that despite WhatsApp operating in different legal and regulatory environments, there are effectively two privacy policies for WhatsApp users.
Given Facebook’s status as one of the world’s largest companies, the regulator says it should work together with other organisations in order to hold Facebook accountable.
“We are very concerned about these different standards that apply to us; our legislation is very similar to that of the EU,” says advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the IR.
“We are obligated as the regulator to ensure the protection of personal information of all South African citizens and monitor compliance of the POPIA by responsible parties. We therefore will take this matter further and seek legal opinions and advocate for collaborated efforts.”
Disconnecting from WhatsApp
Millions of unhappy WhatsApp users across the globe have been boycotting the messenger app since the new policy announcement, with messaging service Telegram adding 25 million users between 10 and 13 January, while Signal was downloaded by 17.8 million users in the same period.
“You won’t be able to access your chat list, but you can still answer incoming phone and video calls. After a few weeks of limited functionality, you won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone,” says the social media network in its blog post.
For users who would like to delete their account on Android, iPhone, or KaiOS, WhatsApp has reminded them their account cannot be reversed, as it removes the user from all of their WhatsApp groups and deletes their WhatsApp backups.
Earlier this month, the IR engaged with the forum for privacy and data protection, the Global Privacy Assembly, of which it is a member, to obtain the view or position of the organisation on the compliance of the revised policy with generally acceptable data protection principles and whether it intends to engage WhatsApp on this matter.
Furthermore, the Reseau Africain Des Autorite De Protection Des Donness Personelles (RAPDP), an African network of data protection authorities, of which SA is also a member, engaged with Facebook in April 2021 on the matter.