Suveer Bajaj
Guest Article

Did Whatsapp’s new policies spark an Exodus?

The dip in users may not impact Whatsapp as significantly as one might expect.

Before we dive into the depths of this quandary that is being debated with furore, I’d like to make a few disclosuress at the outset.

  1. I am an active WhatsApp user

  2. I have read, understood and accepted the recent terms & conditions prompted by Whatsapp

  3. I have not migrated to Signal or Telegram or even considered downloading the same

  4. While I am a part of the digital marketing industry and one can rightly assume that I would advocate data sharing, the nature of my job is such that it enables me to understand the perspective of the end-user and that of a business, as well. Thus, it helps me stay objective on the issue

We Chose This

When WhatsApp was introduced to India back in 2009[1], there was little to no hesitation in ‘choosing’ to join the bandwagon. We were presented with a utility driven app that helped us engage in instant interactive conversation, with the ease of sharing pictures and media. The best part of it all, was that this was at no cost! With over 400 million active Indian users across demographics[2], Whatsapp’s seamless and convenient interface has made it the preferred choice of communication, be it for personal, professional or even social communication. Over the years Whatsapp has doled out several amendments to its terms and conditions. So what makes the amendment as of 6th January, 2021 so different? Why the mass exodus, now?

Demystifying Data

In 2006 Clive Humbly referred to data as the new oil. In 2014, we were in awe of Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp for 19 billion dollars[3]. It cemented Facebook’s position as the Goliath of data collection with more than 2 billion active users across Facebook, Instagram and now Whatsapp[4]. We knew 7 years ago that data would obviously be shared between the platforms. Advocates and press reports raised concerns even back then. So what laid the seeds of the paranoia we are seeing today?

It’s been over a decade since Humbly’s quote. And with systematic democratisation of data across industries, the ownership of data today is valued less than what it was just five years ago. Which brings me to the question: what's the value of one’s privacy? Edward Snowden took on the NSA in 2013. While the act was a brave and righteous act, in retrospect, it seems like a blip. However it created awareness about ‘privacy’. This would amplify in 2018 with the onset of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The public was now more aware of how data can be misused in the hands of the wrong people. While data today has altered every industry, right from medicine and consumerism at its very core, the question is when do companies need to have a moral code and when do people need to take proactive measures to protect their own privacy? How much information is too much? And how little data, is too little?

The Moral Code

For me personally, the line needs to be drawn at monetary transactions. We’re no strangers to the misuse of transactional data in the wrong hands. Consumers in such instances need to make informed decisions and choose to not generate that digital footprint.

We primarily share our data in two instances, one, when we feel we have no choice (eg: online shopping) or when it’s a protocol (it’s as simple as filling in your name and number when you enter a corporate building). Sharing data is not the problem, the misuse of it is. We need egalitarian and consumer focused policy and laws imposed to keep this balance.

What’s the Impact ?

The above being said, the ‘mass exodus’, is because people haven’t taken the time to understand the amendments, the implications and what really changed. WhatsApp has put the policy on hold till May and the optics look bad. It is pertinent to note that Facebook’s stock prices have grown 164% over 5 years[5] and continues to show no dent. This speaks volumes about consumer sentiments, preferences and how industry will continue to invest. People may have left Whatsapp, but many seemingly have made the shift back.I’m also making an educated guess that Whatsapp would have accounted for drop offs against the update. So the dip in users may not impact Whatsapp as significantly as one might expect. Unlike the House Party fiasco that happened early on in the lockdown, the habit, convenience, seamless user experience of Whatsapp and more importantly having an unmatched competitor, will continue to make it indomitable at least for the foreseeable future.

References:

1. http://bit.ly/3a05ZPe

2. http://bit.ly/2KRpj8V

3. http://bit.ly/2MpRlJg

4. http://bit.ly/36fWpXC

5. http://yhoo.it/3qZ4asH

(The author is the co-founder of Zoo Media and FoxyMoron.)