Update, protection and responsibility: WhatsApp case

It is said that in crises we show our strengths, but also our weaknesses. In the case of the current pandemic as a consequence of the spread of COVID-19, the utopian world built by human beings had to change its operation, hygiene measures were taken, health measures among which social isolation stands out.

However, I announced that in the face of adversity we showed our level of response to the crisis, which in this case was deficient, due to the fact that most of the nations of the planet represented weak problems, developments and strategies in digital infrastructure and combat against computer threats .

Selected topics such as teleworking, updating in the way of imparting justice through digital platforms, virtual audiences in the different judicial powers, for example, in the American continent, particularly in Mexico and Latin America, set the agenda on the importance of special legislation on rights issues such as disconnection, penalties and fines against acts of digital violence, evaluation of digital evidence, among others.

On this occasion I will focus on talking about the issue of personal data protection under one of the most recent cases such as the WhatsApp application, which is part of the Facebook technology company.

It all starts with the announcements at the beginning of the year 2021 where the app announced that an update would be given to the use and privacy policy, which you will have to accept to continue using it.

The foregoing in my opinion is a very "cynical" strategy on the part of the holding company that is Facebook, which wishes to justify said renewal of its sister company to give a better experience to the user, the consumer, by sharing data immediately, and thus forging a very robust Marketplace, similar to the WeChat mega app in China.

WhatsApp: myths and facts

The popular mobile messaging application that would revolutionize the way of sharing information and would generate disruptive forms of communication, has its origin in 2009 as a product of its founders, including Jan Koum. According to Statista.com, last year it had more than 2.000 billion users, who use the service at least once a month.

Currently, this important application is in the focus of attention as it does not see clarity in its request for privacy policies, What are the myths and realities on the subject?

Among the myths are that Facebook including its other companies will be able to read your WhatsApp conversations, that they will be able to spy on you and have access to all your contacts, which is obviously false, since the messages are encrypted, and this means that your messages, calls and status updates are just for you and the people you choose to share them with.  

However, what will happen after the application is updated on May 15 of this year is that the new rules will make commercial transactions between various Facebook apps work. An example is that the tennis shoes, jackets or any other article or garment that you see on Instagram, will also appear on WhatsApp where you can buy them directly.

Now, emphasizing the previous ones, let's remember that among the news that gave much to talk about in 2020 was that WhatsApp launched a test function of a payment system for a limited number of users in Brazil. Nevertheless, the Central Bank of Brazil blocked the sending of money through the app, launching an order to Visa and MasterCard so that any operation carried out is automatically suspended. The reason was not being able to carefully analyze the nature and operation of the service to send money from WhatsApp.

Principles of protection, ethics and responsibility

"Any technology company must really innovate, but not to the detriment of the well-being and integrity of the user, of the digital community."

It has always been questioned how the privacy policies, functions and commitments of social networks and messaging apps are implemented and made known to users, that is, in a technical and diffuse way in terms of protection terms and limits.

Let us remember that in Mexico, the Federal Law on Protection of Personal Data Held by Private Parties in its second chapter "On the principles of personal data protection" article 6 dictates: "those responsible for the processing of personal data, must observe the principles of legality, consent, information, quality, purpose, loyalty, proportionality and responsibility… ”.

However, in the international framework, the Spanish Agency for the Protection of personal data has published guidelines aimed at companies that develop mobile applications or process personal data through them. Among the privacy guidelines are to facilitate specific privacy policies on the treatment that is carried out, avoiding generic information that generates "information fatigue".

The language of the privacy policies is also highlighted to the characteristics of the target user, especially if they are minors. In addition to avoiding ambiguous or empty clauses and informing about the time that personal data will be kept.

Finally, in the case of the United States of America, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has been in place for more than a year (January 1, 2020) and the challenge is that companies know what standards to comply with and that users know their rights and protections. 

The alternative does not ignore prevention

The result of exposing "the update is not always synonymous with progress", is because WhatsApp perhaps wanted to translate that the comfort and disinterest of the people would not trigger an anger at its announcement of new terms. However, it was so rejected that today a competing application, Telegram, has 500 million active users according to one of its founders, Pável Dúrov.

Telegram has several functions that make it value more than WhatsApp, among which the functions that ensure privacy and security stand out of user conversations by being able to self-destruct messages from 1 second to within a week of being sent. Another attribute is the chats in the cloud where the photos you send to another person can be configured to self-destruct in a maximum of one minute, this feature is called "secret photo".

However, nothing is perfect and it is that the more passionate about a platform of this class, there is no guarantee that it will not fall into the same mistakes.

The WhatsApp case, and in general, of the parent company that is Facebook, demonstrates several things, one is that you never treat the client as a fool and do not think that you are indispensable either. In turn, it also serves for the digital user to strengthen their interest in technology issues, demand their fourth generation rights and prevent harming themselves and third parties by sharing sensitive information, that is, health, financial data, minors. , by these public, deceptive and to some extent arbitrary means of communication.


*The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the administrators of The Crypto Legal blog or the Lawgic Tec association.

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Rodolfo Guerrero
Rodolfo Guerrero Martínez is a lawyer for the Benemérita Universidad de Guadalajara, is CEO of Coffee Law. Producer and conductor of Legal Perspectives on Radio CUCEI at the University of Guadalajara. He is a founding Partner of the Mexican Academy of Law "Juan Velásquez" AC He has been a lecturer at the International Congress, talks and conferences on issues of computer law, human rights and immigration law.

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