Usama Khilji is Director of Bolo Bhi and council member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Systemic Inequality and Social Cohesion. He also serves on the board of the Global Network Initiative.
21 January 2021
However, it is now that people have come to realise that their metadata – data related to user’s identity such as phone number, device, internet connection, names of groups one is a part of, when one uses WhatsApp the most, online status, profile display picture, status posted, stories, etc. – are all accessed by WhatsApp owned by Facebook and used for advertising.
Most will argue that this information is accessed by most social media applications, which is true. Facebook has access to all this information on your phone and more, as does Google and most other applications which silently collect this data and sell it to advertisers. That is the business model of most internet companies, which enable users to use services for free, which has led to technology giants being the wealthiest companies in the world today.
Luckily, there are many applications based on a non-profit model, such as the Signal messaging application that is owned by the non-profit Signal Foundation founded by the cofounder of WhatsApp who left WhatsApp to start a truly secure messaging application. Because Signal is non-profit, there is no risk of user data being sold. Because it uses an open source code that created the application, it can be replicated by others as WhatsApp has, and does not own any user data like corporations do. Moreover, Signal only has access to device information of the user, as opposed to all the metadata WhatsApp collects.
In Pakistan, we see the government trying to access more private company data for surveillance, as evident in the Removal and Blocking of Online Content Rules 2020, and not protecting data held by government in the draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2020.
Companies must have the highest possible privacy standards for all users, and governments must ensure protection of this data rather than mandating greater access for themselves.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the institute’s policy.