Info-tech

We want to do everything we can to assure our users: Will Cathcart, Global Head of WhatsApp

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on January 18, 2021

Will Cathcart, Global Head, WhatsApp

WhatsApp has been facing a severe backlash by its users since the messaging platform announced new privacy rules earlier this month. While many users have quit the platform and moved to other messaging apps, others have demanded more stringent data protection laws from the government. Will Cathcart, Global Head, WhatsApp, responded to questions from BusinessLine on why the privacy rules were changed and how the company plans to address user concerns. excerpts:

WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy has stoked fears about privacy and data sharing with other apps. Why did WhatsApp decide to take away the choice that users had until now to not share its data in this way?

We want everyone to know how seriously committed we are to the privacy and security of people’s chats. This update does not affect the privacy of your personal messages with friends and family in any way. We realise the update has caused some confusion and we want to do everything we can to assure our users. You can tell your messages and calls are protected because they are marked “end-to-end encrypted” at the top of each chat.

Then why has this been made mandatory to all users, and not just those who use a WhatsApp business account?

There are millions of people who communicate with businesses across India via WhatsApp. This update helps with general transparency and includes changes to describe those communications. Even though these are optional features, we think it’s important for everyone to know about them. For example, if you message a business they may be receiving services from Facebook. We will note that directly in the chat above your message with them. Not everyone may talk to a business today, but some will in the future. Hence, it is important that everyone is aware of these options. Apps need to periodically provide updates to their users that explain their collection practices and that’s what we have done here. This update also provides further transparency about how we collect and use data, and includes updates to describe these business messaging features, which we want to ensure users have read and understood.

Do you mean to say the updated privacy policy only has implications on the business account users?

Even though these are optional features we think it’s important for everyone to know how we protect and secure their information. Not everyone may talk to a business today, but some will in the future. We believe it is important that everyone is aware of these options, though, of course, it is entirely up to the user whether or not they want to engage with a business. Also, this update helps with general transparency and includes changes to describe those communications.

Did WhatsApp share any user data with Facebook prior to the latest update? What user data was shared earlier and What additional data will be shared under the new policy?

We have been a part of Facebook for many years. For an app focused around protecting people’s personal messages it’s most important people know that we cannot see your personal messages with friends and family, and neither can Facebook. We’re not keeping logs of who everyone in India is texting or calling. We do not share your contacts with Facebook or the other apps Facebook offers. We offer a global service to communicate with friends, family, co-workers and Facebook helps us make sure we can reliably deliver these services. In addition, we work with Facebook to support millions of micro businesses around India.

There is a consensus, among both users as well as experts, that asking people to accept the new policy or delete one’s account is harsh and unwarranted, with it breaching the expectations with which users had signed up for WhatsApp. What do you have to say to this?

We deeply appreciate the feedback and know how much our users care about privacy and security. Your personal chats with friends and family ― including groups ― are protected by end-to-end encryption. We cannot see them. We show a security label at the top of the chat so you know how your messages are secured. We recognise there has been some confusion over the past week and want to help set the record straight.

We want to be clear the policy update does not affect the privacy of your personal messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. This has become all the more important over the last year with people needing to conduct commerce remotely. We’re building new ways in the near term for people to shop on WhatsApp for businesses to manage and respond to messages. Where launched, this will be available to all, but it will be people’s choice whether or not to choose to do so.

The sharing of users’ metadata with Facebook and other apps virtually gives a 360-degree profile into a person's online activities, which can result in subtle forms of commercial exploitation ― in the form of more ads ― as well as micro-targeting by political campaigns. How would your response be to that?

We’re not bringing ads to WhatsApp with this update. The idea is that people want to message a business, whether that’s a local Kirana store or to book a train ticket. In the process of doing that, we want to help the business manage their customer messages. We think we can build a business providing services to these businesses and again keeping your personal messages with friends and families protected by end-to-end encryption.

Ever since WhatsApp’s acquisition by Facebook, it has conspicuously changed its stance on data sharing with other apps and is increasingly becoming more of a ‘Facebook product’. Your thoughts.

We have been a part of Facebook for many years. WhatsApp is focused around protecting people’s personal messages, it is most important people know that we cannot see your personal messages with friends and family and neither can Facebook. We’re not keeping logs of who everyone in India is texting or calling. We do not share your contacts with Facebook or the other apps Facebook offers. We offer a global service to communicate with friends, family, and co-workers, and Facebook helps us make sure we can reliably deliver these services. In addition, we work with Facebook to support millions of micro businesses around India.

Do you anticipate WhatsApp to lose out on its users and its revenue due to the recent user backlash?

We’re grateful that people continue to use and trust WhatsApp to communicate with family, friends, and co-workers. We know we have to compete for users’ trust when it comes to privacy. We think competition on privacy is good because it will help make apps even more private and secure in the future. Some apps claim to have end-to-end encryption for group chats, and do no such thing. WhatsApp groups are protected by end-to-end encryption.

Are you open to a scrutiny by the Government ?

We remain available to answer any questions and to explain our continued commitment to the privacy and security of users across India.

What’s your view on the need for tighter data protection laws?

We respect all users’ privacy and respect global privacy laws.

Facebook has been using India to test a number of its new products and features. Could you give insight into how WhatsApp is looking at India from a global perspective?

India remains at the centre of our focus at WhatsApp and we listen carefully to the feedback we receive. We’re always looking for ways to improve how we communicate our core values around privacy and security. We want people to be rest assured their personal chats with friends and family remain entirely safe and secure.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on January 18, 2021
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor