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Why the public should rightly be dissatisfied with new legislation around data sharing

January 2021 by Robin Wilton, Internet Society’s Senior Advisor for Internet Trust

Following the recent news of WhatsApp sharing user data with parent company Facebook, there has been surge in people switching to encrypted messaging services such as Signal and Telegram. This suggests many consumers are becoming more conscious of how and where their data is harvested, and the risks associated with potential security breaches.

Robin Wilton, Internet Society’s Senior Advisor for Internet Trust, comments on the ongoing security challenge around potential new data policies:

“There are two separate issues at hand, the first of which is about personal data privacy. The new terms and conditions applying to WhatsApp are just the latest example of what has been Facebook’s practice for a long time – signing people up under one set of terms and conditions which are then revised, over time, to be more permissive and share more of the user’s data by default.

Looking into the detail of the policy change, it’s said to apply only to the messages WhatsApp users choose to exchange with businesses. Again, even if users believe that is safe, or that it doesn’t apply to them, they may be looking down the road to the inevitable next steps from Facebook; switching from this being opt-in to opt-out and extending the policy from B2C to all messages. There’s also the point that Facebook can intrude significantly on privacy without needing to read the contents of WhatsApp messages by mapping and monetising an individual’s social graph.

The second issue is what “end to end encryption” is taken to mean under the new terms and conditions. Facebook has already said it will accede to US law enforcement demands for access to encrypted data, and you can’t have it both ways.”

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