WhatsApp’s data policy changes; should Rwandans worry?

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WhatsApp’s data policy changes; should Rwandans worry?
WhatsApp’s data policy changes; should Rwandans worry?

Africa-PressRwanda. Last week, popular messenger app, WhatsApp announced policy changes that will see them share information with its parent company Facebook and is likely to commence advertising and e-commerce on the popular platform.

Facebook has announced intentions to monetize WhatsApp by allowing businesses to contact their clients via the platform and even sell them products directly.

The firm said the updated terms will allow additional sharing of information between WhatsApp and Facebook as well it’s other applications such as Instagram and Messenger, such as contacts and profile data, but not the content of messages which remain encrypted.

Globally, the policy update has sparked criticism among users especially with regard to the condition that they must accept the changes or terminate using the service by February 8.

“As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies…We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings,” the new privacy policy reads in part.

Locally, the changes have been received somewhat passively with few concerned about their implications and most saying it unlikely to cause them to leave from the platform.

In a mini-survey across Kigali, a majority of users of different ages and education backgrounds said that they are unbothered by the updates with most admitting to have accepted the terms and conditions without taking time to read them.

A concern to some is that the policy updates are not applicable to WhatsApp users in Europe and the United Kingdom probably because of their advancement in data protection laws.

Philbert Mugisha, a Data Science student in Canada explained that agreeing to the terms and conditions technically means that the user allows the firm to use one’s data such as account registration information details, transaction data such as frequency of use, service-related information, mobile device information and your IP address.

Mugisha said that most of the popular social media platforms already use such data for advertising and have it in their terms and conditions.

However, he noted that the privacy policy remains with regard to personal chats and messages which will remain encrypted and no third party able to view them.

The fact that personal chats remain private and encrypted, he said, is likely to see the policy changes have negligible impact on usage and uptake in the country and globally.

“I use multiple apps and honestly, I have not read all their terms and conditions on what they do with my data and information gathered, so, the WhatsApp update is no different and doesn’t bother me much,” Umutesi Flavia, a 27-year-old employee of an emerging corporate firm said.

Her sentiments are similar to a majority of people, The New Times spoke to with regard to the subject.

With the increased Smartphone ownership in the local market at almost 25 per cent of the population, the development has been termed by marketers as new ‘advertising and communications real estate’ which will lead to more closer engagement with brands’ clients.

Increasingly, social media is becoming a preferred advertising outlet especially by Small and Medium Enterprises for ability to reach specific intended markets and affordability through ways such as promoted/ sponsored posts.

Social media as an advertising media is increasingly preferred in that a business can use any budget available as low as Rwf10,000 to promote their business to clients in a specific location.

With WhatsApp arguably being the most used messenger in the country, the development will be new ground for advertisers seeking to reach out to their consumers.

Maurice Balu, cofounder and Head of Strategy at an advertising firm, Quake told The New Times that the development will create an additional beneficial advertising platform for brands.

“Facebook wants to place it as an advertising platform. It creates an advertising platform for marketing and creates an additional platform as far as users are concerned,” he said.

“Data sharing is not a concern that is top of mind, it is more about how people can be safe. At the end of the day, it’s a good thing that they want to make it easy for brands to promote businesses, most internet users are on WhatsApp. People are unlikely to be concerned about the policy,” Balu said.

Astelie Ngarambe, a Kigali based marketing professional told The New Times that increasingly, businesses have started taking advantage of WhatsApp Business and advertising on Instagram. This trend she said is expected to grow across the Facebook platforms as firms integrate social media advertising into their marketing plans.

“Companies will need to get up to speed on how to market their business on Facebook via their Facebook business learning platform,” Ngarambe said.

However, as more companies become fully aware of how effective advertising through Facebook and linking to Whatsapp is, Ngarambe said that some consumers could start experiencing advertising fatigue as they get too accustomed to a certain type of advertising.

In October 2020, Rwanda made advancements towards tightening rules that govern how personal data and privacy is handled with Cabinet approving a new draft law on data protection and privacy.

The new law seeks to safeguard fundamental rights to privacy by regulating the processing of data and providing the individual with rights over their data.

The draft law among other things notes that personal data must be processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorized or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage.

The draft law also requires that data processing should be transparent and lawful.

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