• Home
  • /
  • Security
  • /
  • Information Regulator worries SA will get less WhatsApp privacy

Information Regulator worries SA will get less WhatsApp privacy

Read time 3min 30sec
Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Information Regulator.
Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Information Regulator.

The Information Regulator (IR) has written a letter to Facebook South Africa, outlining concerns about the social media giant’s privacy policy as it relates to SA.

In a statement, the IR says it is disturbed that citizens of the European Union (EU) will receive significantly higher privacy protection than people in SA and Africa who use the Facebook and WhatsApp platforms.

WhatsApp sparked public outcry when it updated its privacy policy in January. 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.

The new terms led to scores of frustrated users across the globe boycotting WhatsApp, moving to rival messaging apps like Telegram and Signal.

In the letter to Facebook, the IR says it has prohibited Facebook from sharing any contact information it collects from WhatsApp users without its authorisation.

“WhatsApp cannot, without obtaining prior authorisation from the IR in terms of section 57 of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection, with the aim of linking that information jointly with information processed by other Facebook companies,” says the IR.

For users who live in the European region, WhatsApp provides the services under different terms of service and privacy policy, than in the rest of the world – due the region’s stringent data protection law, the General Data Protection Regulation.

The IR further notes it has indicated to Facebook SA that it is willing and committed to have a round-table discussion regarding the issues raised, to ensure there is full compliance by the WhatsApp Privacy Policy with the provisions of the POPIA and other pertinent international legal instruments.

“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.

“It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions. We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa.”

The regulator says it met with Facebook SA in January and the discussions are ongoing.

Looming deadline

Users were initially given a deadline of 8 February 2021 to accept the updated terms of service in order to continue using WhatsApp; however, the implementation date of the new privacy policy has been extended to 15 May 2021.

Millions of WhatsApp users across the globe have been boycotting the messenger app since the new policy announcement, with Telegram adding25 million users between 10 and 13 January, while Signal was downloaded by 17.8 million users in the same period.

As more users across the globe flock to rival messaging apps, WhatsApp in a blog post addressed the “confusion and misinformation” which had been causing concern around the privacy policy update.

“WhatsApp was built on a simple idea: what you share with your friends and family stays between you. This means we will always protect your personal conversations with end-to-end encryption, so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see these private messages. It’s why we don’t keep logs of who everyone’s messaging or calling. We also can’t see your shared location and we don’t share your contacts with Facebook,” it explains.

The messenger app firm also notes it is going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on its platform.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance has requested that Facebook be invited by Parliament’s Committee of Communications and Digital Technologies to respond to questions about misinformation on its platforms.

See also