An Elephant in the Room – Recent Case of WhatsApp Fallout Amongst Indian Users
By Kamesh Shekar
In this blog post, I intend to examine this issue more in-depth to understand whether some of the users’ concerns highly regarded post the notification are only related to a particular App or uptick in overall concerns in general.
Is it just our messages being shared that is causing all this trouble? Well, then we are on a wrong path for the right cause. WhatsApp categorises data/information into three types according to its source, i.e., the information we share, information automatically collected, and information gathered from third parties. Messages fall under the information we share, WhatsApp still has the end-to-end encryption intact, and it does not see, store or share our messages with third parties. Therefore, the problem isn’t the messages per se; instead, we should worry about the metadata/behavioural information that we share, which is collected automatically (such as login/out details, status information, transaction information etc.) or through third parties with our consent for a long time.
While it is believable that this entire scene of us (users) trying to find out an alternative for WhatsApp will bring an end to Facebook’s monopoly, well, in reality, is it so? We have moved beyond a point where the usage of Apps like WhatsApp has become inevitable, and this entire consciousness of privacy is not universal as many Indians might still ignore the update and continue using the service from May 15, 2021 (which was previously February 8, 2021). Further, moving towards an alternative will also be a tedious process as it might take time for networks effect to kick in. Despite these cons, if we still believe that to some extent, this recent incident might break the monopoly, what is the assurance that we might not have another monopoly in the future?
Then, is a monopoly WhatsApp’s problem? In case of the platform economy,the formation of monopoly is inevitable, especially in social media platforms because of (a) network effects (b) lack of cross-platform communication. While the network effect does help improve the value of the service (where users are well connected and business can reach their customers at free of cost), the lack of cross-platform communication might hamper the competition in this space. Thus, the problem is not the monopoly of a particular app; instead, the lack of interoperability amongst platforms is predatory. Suppose we believe that we need more competition and safeguards against monopoly in this sector. In that case, we need a legal provision that mandates cross-platforms communication, like Telecom Service Providers where irrespective of whichever carrier we use we can talk and text each other.
While we are overwhelmed by the user’s ex-post reaction to WhatsApp fallout and promises of other apps for privacy, we shouldn’t forget that there are still no laws in India that safeguard users from the private entities’ business motives. Besides, stricter laws have proven to be protective – WhatsApp has different rules for users within the European Union boundaries due to the GDPR in place. Therefore, we need a legal framework that questions these malpractices and ensures it looks at things from a long-sighted perspective. Further, it is also important to have synergy between various legal frameworks to have better consumer protection and outcomes.
Views are personal and do not represent Takshashila’s recommendations.