The Zimbabwean Perspective

A look at our lives and the tech we use in them

Editorial Policy and Regulation social media

WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy change finally made people in Africa take note of Facebook’s privacy issues, even if they probably overreacted.

So should your really delete WhatsApp?…Does it matter?

For the past two weeks WhatsApp’s recent privacy policy update was a big topic in tech and even mainstream news as the new requirement for users to all share their data with Facebook made many people, especially in Africa , not only perk up and wonder why WhatsApp’s privacy policy was changing, but start to care about what internet privacy is and how Facebook tends to abuse it. And while there has definitely been some overreaction in terms of how people are reacting, this new change especially among laymen is something everyone in Africa needed.
So let’s start with what this new privacy policy update actually does, and if it really changes things for you. Essentially, WhatsApp will now share specific data about it’s users with the rest of Facebook’s companies(Instagram and Facebook) in order to of course study said data and that will be used for Facebook’s bread and butter business of personalized ad targeting i.e. where the company studies what you do or like on it’s platforms to serve you better ads. It’s the at best, mildly uncomfortable and at worst extremely creepy practice where the company probably knows more about you than a lot of people do due to your online behavior, and for years now the US government and others have been trying to reel the company’s behavior in, including heavily overseeing when Facebook actually acquired WhatsApp. This is why while WhatsApp does now harvest data, taking note of what kind of data it harvests is worth noting, which is why we listed it below.
  • Profile name
  • Profile picture
  • IP address
  • Your Phone Number and Contact list
  • App logs
  • Networks you have connected to(both mobile and WIFI)
  • Status messages
Now for those paying attention, a lot of that can count as what’s called metadata, as what most people probably care about on WhatsApp is the actual messages and the contents of those messages, the core use of the app. However all of this other data is the kind of data that Facebook uses to track user behavior and target it for ads, for example if you spend time connected to a lot of Zolspots in town, the company could make a deal with ZOL to sell people like you ads for a new cheaper WIMAX package, as you may be more susceptible to ZOL products. Now again, is this uncomfortable, manipulative and creepy? Yes, very much so, but ironically enough Facebook has been doing it to most people for years, on all it’s apps including WhatsApp for most users since 2016. WhatsApp started sharing user data in 2016, and Facebook gave you the option to opt out of this until now. However most people obviously took this the wrong way (as shown in The Friday Checkout’s YouTube video above), believing that WhatsApp now shared your messages with Facebook and probably everyone thought the next season of the show Cheaters would be owned by Facebook, sharing their WhatsApp messages and catching their online “side romances” in the act. That’s certainly not the case, though again, the general realization of internet privacy among many Africans (Zimbabweans Included) is probably a good thing.
You see for many, especially in Africa, internet privacy sounds like a “first world country problem” , seen as even less of a threat than global warming, and to be honest, I would argue that in the case of countries like Zimbabwe, it’s probably not the most immediate of concerns. Tech companies harvest data for populations and demographics they’re most interested in, along with manipulating that data the most. 90% of the time those populations or demographics are not Zimbabwe, hence we can probably breathe easy and you don’t have to think about moving your whole family and social circle to Signal or telegram. However the fact that a lot of people now even know what internet privacy is and care about the fact that tech companies can violate it is a huge step forward for people’s collective tech and internet knowledge, and how tech actually affects them in their day to day. In fact so many of us are beginning to look at alternatives, be it the Elon Musk endorsed Signal, our shut-down backup Telegram, or even the very few who are deciding to look at Sasai, it seems a sense of competition, which should always be there, is beginning to form and users are realizing they can have and should use other options. Spreading such knowledge is why sites like us exist, and it will be interesting seeing if more Zimbabweans, Africans, or other people from developing nations pay more attention to how Facebook, Google and other companies affect and manipulate people’s lives , whether online or otherwise.

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  1. I’m a little confused may you please help me understand, if I already have Facebook there isn’t the difference the same with continuing to own a WhatsApp account? (I actually haven’t updated my WhatsApp till I fully understand this whole thing and your article has been remarkably insightful)

    • Hi Tapiwa, forgive the late feedback , but yes, if you have a Facebook or even Instagram account than chances are Facebook already has a pretty substancial amount of data on you. Now whether this data has actually been used by them or not is another thing entirely. After all the one good thing about Africa is that these companies consider most of us(at least at an individual level) not really worth the extra scrutinization, so chances are eve if said data exist, it’s randomized and not really being aimed at anything specific to you. So you’re probably pretty safe. And of course this all depends on how concerned you are about your privacy as well(something which more Zimbos need to start in the first place). So you can update your WhatsApp, it likely won’t mmake any difference at all, especially since Signal Itself might be getting shady too.


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