Citizen Reporter
Reporter
2 minute read
4 Mar 2021
9:13 am

Information Regulator seeks clarity on new WhatsApp privacy policy

Citizen Reporter

If users do not accept the terms, they will only be able to receive calls and notifications for a short period of time and will not be able to read or send messages from the app.

Picture: EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON

The Information Regulator (IR) of South Africa says it is concerned about Facebook’s statement explaining the consequences WhatsApp users will face if they don’t accept its privacy policy by 15 May 2021.

WhatsApp said last month it would go ahead with its updated terms of service and privacy policy to enforce the sharing of data from WhatsApp and Instagram to Facebook.

“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, customise, support and market our services and their offerings,” reads WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy.

Some of the information they will be sharing includes user phone numbers, profile names and photos, online statuses and status messages, and last seen statuses.

If users do not accept the terms, they will only be able to receive calls and notifications for a short period of time and will not be able to read or send messages from the app.

The IR says it has written to Facebook South Africa and provided an analysis of some of the concerns it has about the privacy policy.

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“For example, it is the IR’s view that the processing of cellphone numbers as accessed on the user’s contact list for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection, with the aim of linking the information jointly with the information processed by other responsible parties (such as Facebook companies) does not require consent from the data subject, but prior authorisation from the IR.

“Accordingly, WhatsApp cannot without obtaining prior authorisation from the IR in terms of section 57 of Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia), process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection, with the aim of linking that information jointly with information processed by other Facebook companies,” said IR chairperson Pansy Tlakula.

Tlakula said the IR also raised concerns that citizens of the European Union would receive greater privacy protection than South Africans.

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“We are very concerned about these different standards that apply to us; our legislation is very
similar to that of the EU. It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better
model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions.

“We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa.”

The IR says it is willing to have a discussion regarding the issues raised to ensure full compliance by the WhatsApp privacy policy with the provisions of Popia.

Compiled by Vhahangwele Nemakonde 

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