Home Lifestyle The WhatsApp privacy policy: Separating fact from fiction

The WhatsApp privacy policy: Separating fact from fiction

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From screaming headlines of privacy invasion to the reality of the new WhatsApp terms of service.

File picture: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

By Matt Grobler

From screaming headlines of privacy invasion to the reality of the new WhatsApp terms of service.

It didn’t take long for the first scandal to hit 2021. WhatsApp announced that users must accept the new terms of service by February 2021 or lose use of the application, and the terms were cause for global concern. “You will lose WhatsApp if you don’t update your terms and conditions!”, “WhatsApp controversy raises digital security concerns”. Thousands left the platform in favour of rivals such as Signal and Telegram over concerns about their data and privacy. Only, the hype was for nothing…

“In terms of user interactions, the terms of service are exactly the same as those that users have today,” says Matt Grobler, presales engineer at INOVO. “There is so much misinformation that consumers don’t know the implications and believe the worst. Facebook is not taking the data, it is not sharing the information with third parties, and it cannot gain access to your content and messages.”

The Terms of Service released by WhatsApp on 04 January 2021, emphasise privacy and security and explain, in relative layman’s terms, how the company makes use of user information. It clearly states that no customer messages will ever be shared with Facebook or third parties associated with Facebook, and that the company doesn’t have access to the messages or their content. The encryption protocols embedded within the platform ensure that only sender and receiver are given access to their messages.

“The full end-to-end encryption means that users should have no concerns about their privacy, it’s even more secure than the average email – email accounts get hacked far more often, and more easily,” says Grobler. “The changes within the terms of service are not to consumers but to how businesses can use WhatsApp to improve their own customer service. Facebook has now established its own hosting for companies that want to use WhatsApp and allows for them to leverage their connections with the social platform to make use of Facebook shopping and other services.”

The move allows for businesses using WhatsApp to actually provide better customer service. They can connect directly to their own Facebook store, allow customers to buy directly from WhatsApp, and embed messaging across all the Facebook-owned social networks. In short, the new terms of service improve the customer experience. Customers using services provided by companies that take advantage of the offering will see a clearly labelled Facebook logo in chat or shop windows and have the option to leave. Using this service is not forced on the customer.

“It could have been phrased a lot more carefully,” says Grobler. “Ultimately, this is just a toolkit for the business to monetise and build out more engaging customer experiences with increased revenue from ads provided by Facebook in the background. It’s a smart way of fleshing out the platform for companies that want to do more with their customer social networks.”

Offering businesses the ability to interact with customers over WhatsApp through the contact centre is a service that is already on offer from companies such as INOVO. Customers can use WhatsApp to interact with contact centre agents, obtain information through self-service or even apply for a loan. But what does the sudden customer exodus from WhatsApp mean for organisations that have already invested in using the platform to service their customers?

“The same services that are currently available for businesses using WhatsApp as a contact centre channel can be layered over Signal or Telegram,” says Grobler. “It’s just an endpoint and makes no difference to the service provided. The only challenge is that many of these other channels are not as reliable as WhatsApp. WhatsApp offers a richer customer service environment that is faster and more reliable for businesses and customers.”

While WhatsApp does offer multiple ways of enriching the customer journey, ultimately the platform the organisation uses will be dictated by consumers. However, if their customers move to Signal or Telegram or any newcomer, businesses do still have the ability to leverage the expertise and technology provided by companies like INOVO to help them deliver the same great service over that channel.

“WhatsApp demands that companies undergo stringent processes to get approved and really does focus on privacy, security and user experiences,” concludes Grobler. “As soon as the noise dies down, it’s likely that many users will realise that nothing has changed except for how much more they can do with the messaging platform.”

*INOVO offers contact centres a flexible way to service, sell to, or collect from customers across any channel.