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What The Privacy Policy Of WhatsApp Actually Means And Why We Aren’t Grumbling About It

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Pompeii is a city of legend and myth whose story got frozen in time by ash and dust in a catastrophe that could have been avoided to an extent had its inhabitants listened to Mount Vesuvius’ warnings. But they didn’t, and their mistake will never be forgotten as history isn’t forgiving and the remnants are perfectly preserved.

Probably, dear reader, you may be wondering what Pompeii has to do with anything, particularly with any current news. Fortunately, if you keep reading (won’t be long, I promise), you may have your questions answered.

We all know about WhatsApp, the giant in instant messaging services, the app we all have on our phones and has become a daily driver that makes our lives easier. It all started with good intentions — a way of allowing people to communicate easily and for free with their loved ones. But alas, in February 2014, the giant gave its first warning when it was bought by Facebook.

The second of many warnings that were to come revealed itself in the shape of the founders of the app fleeing the company because they considered whatever was happening in WhatsApp’s backstage dangerous. To be precise, they fled because of the rampant privacy violations that were taking place systematically for all users. Yet, no one paid attention and so, Facebook kept rumbling and getting bigger by the day, not unlike Mount Vesuvius.

The last spectacular warning, the one that finally made people scratch their head, was a change in WhatsApp’s new policy update. On January 6, 2021, WhatsApp announced an update on its terms of service and privacy policy to be effective from February 8, 2021, onward. The announcement also mentioned that users who refuse to accept the new policy would no longer be allowed to use WhatsApp.

This is the content of the controversial update that led to a mass exodus of users switching to alternative messaging apps including Signal and Telegram. Basically, the update gave an extraordinary amount of power to WhatsApp (aka Facebook) over their users’ data, with no way of reasonably avoiding it.

The exodus that took place weeks ago shows how much the current generation values their privacy and is willing to take steps to protect it. However, it was not enough because this mass shift only sent WhatsApp to its damage-control mode. WhatsApp postponed its policy update till May 15, 2021 (so most people forgot about it again), and released a blog post explaining how user privacy is important to them. WhatsApp users even saw a status message from WhatsApp of a banner explaining the users ‘how private and secure WhatsApp is.’

Today, I will explain this post in clear and easy-to-understand terms. I will also try to convince the readers to delete WhatsApp and use an ethical alternative, or at least one that doesn’t milk them like data cows.

Does WhatsApp Protect And Secure Your Personal Messages? Let’s Find Out.

1. We can’t see your personal messages or hear your calls, and neither can Facebook: Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read your messages or hear your calls with your friends, family and co-workers on WhatsApp. Whatever you share, it stays between you. That’s because your personal messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. We will never weaken this security, and we clearly label each chat, so you know our commitment. Learn more about WhatsApp security here.

In theory, WhatsApp chats are end-to-end encrypted. WhatsApp, Facebook or anyone in between, can not read your messages. I say ‘in theory’ because there is no way of proving that. WhatsApp is a closed sourced proprietary software. A closed source software can be defined as a proprietary software distributed under a licensing agreement to authorised users with private modification, copying and republishing restrictions.

In simpler words, the source code is not shared with the public for anyone to look at or change. Closed source is the opposite of open source. Thanks, wikipedia! So we can’t know what is going on behind the code. It is also quite likely that there is a backdoor in the WhatsApp source code, leaking all your sensitive data to governments, hackers, advertisers and the highest bidders.

Even with the encryption in place, and assuming that it’s not a scam, WhatsApp regularly asks its users to make a security copy of their chats in the cloud, a copy that, by the way, is not encrypted and is indeed examined by, for example, Google Drive. So, like the Pompeii inhabitants, we are having our mistakes frozen and analysed forever.

This is why we should use an open sourced software.

2. We don’t keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling: While traditionally, mobile carriers and operators store this information, we believe that keeping these records for two billion users would be both a privacy and security risk, and we don’t do it.

This is hard to believe. Isn’t WhatsApp collecting ‘metadata’ (that too unencrypted) on its users?

Metadata is data about your actual data. It can be used to know a lot about you, like;

  1. With whom you’ve been in contact, when and where
  2. When you are awake and when you go to sleep
  3. Which doctor you go to
  4. To whom you write a lot and to whom not at all
  5. When you are at work
  6. When you are sick and, when and where you go on a vacation

From this type of data, WhatsApp/Facebook can create a profile about you, which they can sell to advertisers.

3. We can’t see your shared location and neither can Facebook: When you share your location with someone on WhatsApp, your location is protected by end-to-end encryption, which means no one can see your location except the people you share it with.

That’s true, because everything you share is protected by end-to-end encryption. Nobody can read your messages except the recipient.
This does not mean that WhatsApp or Facebook can not collect your location data.

WhatsApp and Facebook can not see your ‘shared location’. But both of them can see your current location, because it’s as easy as looking at the signal of your mobile phone and finding out where it is coming from.

4. We don’t share your contacts with Facebook: When you give us permission, we access only the phone numbers from your address book to make messaging fast and reliable, and we don’t share your contacts lists with the other apps Facebook offers.

“WhatsApp does not share your contact lists with other apps Facebook offers,” and
“WhatsApp does not share your contact lists with Facebook.”

Can you spot the difference?

5. Groups remain private: We use group membership to deliver messages and to protect our service from spam and abuse. We don’t share this data with Facebook for ads purposes. Again, these personal chats are end-to-end encrypted, so we can’t see their content.

Groups remain private, really? A bug discovered on WhatsApp said otherwise. Over 400k private WhatsApp group invite links are exposed to search engines. Your WhatsApp groups may not be as secure as you think they are. You can also watch this video to learn more.

What Can I Do To Protect Myself And My Loved Ones?

First, look at open software options, Signal being the most famous one, thanks to its unbreakable encryption and the fact that they refuse to collect basically any data about you. Also, the company can’t be bought or sold as a consequence of its nature of being a non-profit organisation. 

Let’s switch to Signal!

If you don’t trust me, listen to Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, Laura Poitras, Bruce Schneier and millions of other Signal users.

You may have heard of Telegram, but why do I avoid recommending it?

Mainly, because it likes to keep its practices in the shadow, and is unclear when it comes to answering easy and direct questions. They do, however, have excellent functions and an amazing UI.

Let’s avoid being another Pompeii, simply by listening to all the warnings we have been issued so far, and knowing that there are many alternatives to WhatsApp (not only Signal or Telegram). Protect yourself and protect others. What is allowed today may not be so in the future, and everyone knows that once something gets uploaded on the internet, it there to stay forever.

So, what will you do, dear reader? Freeze or survive?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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