Whatsapp ads all over newspapers in response to calls for boycotting the social media app over privacy issues

Published : January 13, 2021 11:34 IST

Indian Express 13/1/2021

Days after a strong social media campaign by everyday citizens to switch to rival messaging applications Signal and Telegram, Whatsapp ads were seen jacketed in leading English newspapers of India explaining their stance on the changed terms and conditions.

“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA”, the advertisement read on dailies like The Assam Tribune, The Hindu, The Times of India, Economic Times and Indian Express. Under a question titled ‘So what has changed?’, the Facebook-owned social media messaging platform explained that only messages to business accounts would have their data collected and shared, presumably for more personalised and targeted marketing at users.

As Telegram reported 25 million downloads over the last three days, and Signal jumped to the top spot of downloaded free apps on the Apple App store and Google Play (for Android), Whatsapp insisted in its ad that it would not access private messages, hear our calls, or reveal group chats and contacts. “We don’t share [group] data with Facebook for ads purposes … These private chats are end-to-end encrypted so we can’t see their content.”

The controversy arose after a recent update made it mandatory to accept the new terms and conditions of Whatsapp, or cease using it from 8th February. Users and rights activists fear accepting the new terms, which highlight renewed ways in which chat data will be shared with Facebook to tailor advertisements, will lead to an invasion of privacy as personal data/messages will be seen by the tech behemoth.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has emphasised at different points of time the importance of the Indian market for the company, in particular tapping into the hundreds of millions of users on Whatsapp. The attempt to monetise, what has always been a free app for most, has been slammed by the executives of rival companies. Telegram's founder mocked Facebook for having a team dedicated to studying its growing popularity, and advised a simple mantra – respect your users, while Signal insists it will never have ads.

An infographic version of today’s advertisement appeared on Whatsapp’s social media handles (Twitter, Facebook) yesterday. It reiterated the same claims, in response to ‘rumours’, and added that it does not maintain call logs, and informed users that they can download and make disappear their messages. Tech journalist Abhishek Baxi quipped on a tweet that Whatsapp has finally realised that rumours spread on its platform are a problem.