Privacy panic – Should we rush to delete our Facebook and Whatsapp profiles? Or do we just carry on, and trust that no one will be meddling with our privacy and that our data will not be up for grabs? The news that as of last week, Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg owns not only Instagram but also WhatsApp has been causing alarm among users around the world.
Buying WhatsApp has provided Zuckerberg with the data of over 450 million monthly users and hundreds of millions of phone numbers. All of them bantering every day about things they like (and don’t like) and sending each other gigabytes’ worth of photos. That information is golden to advertisers, who would love to be able to use it for much more effective targeted advertising. That way, they can exert more and more influence on what people think, do or buy. Zuckerberg’s acquisition of Whatsapp has been causing much agitation among users. What will he do with all that data put together? What will happen to WhatsApp? The Facebook owner has been criticised before about violations of privacy. This week, at a congress in Barcelona, he promised no one needed to worry about this. “Facebook will not be using the contents of WhatsApp messages for advertising or other services.”
Internet expert Danny Mekić (27) doubts that. He expects there will be quite a few changes for the users in the future, because as it is, owning WhatsApp barely benefits Zuckerberg at all. “You don’t buy a company for nineteen billion dollars and then not do anything with it”, he explains. “It’s a huge amount of money that Zuckerberg will have to earn back.” App developer Midas Kwant (15) expects it will be all right and there’s no need for major privacy panic. After the NSA mass surveillance scandal, he’s more worried about the personal information the government has its hands on than about what Zuckerberg is planning. “I don’t think he’ll abuse the data. Because if he makes a mess of things, all the users will just up and leave. And then he’ll lose all that power just like that.”
Young target demographic
Still, a large portion of the userbase doesn’t want to wait and see what will be done with their data, and has already switched to different ways to chat. In the Netherlands, the number of users of the free app Telegram increased explosively after the takeover. Threema is also popular. Midas Kwant explains this mass switch as users copying each other. “Now that Telegram is at the top of the App Store, everyone wants it. But it could also just be a hype that’ll blow over before you know it, just like with Path.” Other alternatives to WhatsApp are Snapchat, Viber, Line or Skype. But here too you’ll still never be 100% certain nobody is reading along with you, particularly if the apps are free. Danny Mekić: “Young people in particular are an interesting target demographic to major companies, because their online behaviour is trendsetting. They’re the first ones to notice new trends that older people will eventually follow. Look at the transition that’s been happening on Facebook: young people are now switching to other media, whereas older people are only just discovering it.” He laughs and adds: “If you really want to be sure nobody is eavesdropping on you, you’ll have to huddle together and whisper in a corner where there’s no surveillance equipment.”
This article has been published in 7Days.