Most Indians won’t fully quit WhatsApp despite the privacy concerns

Bleeding into one another.
Bleeding into one another.
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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WhatsApp’s new privacy policy has sent many Indians into a tizzy, but most of them are still in the wait-and-watch mode.

Come Feb. 8, the instant messenger owned by Facebook will start sharing its commercial user data with its parent company as well as third-party firms associated with Facebook and its subsidiaries like Instagram. Nearly 20% of Indians see no issue and plan to continue using WhatsApp, according to a recent survey of over 9,000 people by community social media platform LocalCircles.

Even those who are worried about WhatsApp’s new policy are not looking to boycott the app completely. A major chunk simply just considering using other platforms like Signal, Telegram, Skype, and Zoom in conjunction with WhatsApp.

Only 15% would rather abandon the platform entirely than agree to these terms.

While messaging friends and family will remain largely unaffected, the intrusive policy change has spurred distrust especially when it comes to interactions with businesses and transactions.

The business of WhatsApp

In a statement countering the backlash, WhatsApp clarified that private chats and calls will remain private. Only data from chats with business accounts will be shared for ad targeting.

For instance, when companies like e-tailer Myntra, online travel agency MakeMyTrip, or ticketing platform BookMyShow share transaction details, invoices, and vouchers with the customers, “that data can be utilised by their competitor via Facebook advertising and the user could get unsolicited offers for hotels and taxi services on their Facebook, Instagram and possibly even their email, SMS and WhatsApp,” Local Circles explained.

For now, WhatsApp has its massive user base on its side. But its reputation has been hit. Two-thirds of users say they will discontinue business chat on the platform if these changes occur, according to LocalCircles’ survey.

“There will be waves of migration away from WhatsApp,” founder of business intelligence platform Paper.VC, told Quartz. “It will not be a single event as much as reactions to a series of decisions by an incumbent that wants to push ahead and monetise its biggest platform in one of the largest untapped markets in the world.”

The new privacy policy could also hurt WhatsApp long-held digital payment plans in India. Over nine in 10 WhatsApp users told LocalCircles they will not use its payment features if the new data-sharing caveats apply.