Today I hit a switch that I’ve been putting off for a while; I ended my decade-long refusal to give access to my address book to WhatsApp. When the service first came to prominence, I decided I wasn’t happy giving other people’s information to FaceBook, despite the limitations it placed on my use of the service. However, I’ve been re-evaluting this for a while, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, statistics. The service is very widely used here in the UK, and has been for many years, and almost everyone will follow the default path and allow it to scan their address book. The chances of my providing any information that the company don’t have already are basically nil. As such, my demurring is at this point purely symbolic.
Secondly, and more importantly, the landscape has changed. Since the rise of WhatsApp, tech in general and the handling of personal data specifically has a lot more regulatory and legislative attention. In particular, the GDPR1 provides targeted and toothy oversight in this case. While I don’t really trust
With those two points, I was on the fence. The thing that finally pushed me into action was this story, which quotes Apple as being willing to “withdraw critical security features from the UK market” if amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act current under consideration make it into law.
I am far from a privacy absolutist, and recognise that there are circumstances that justify law enforcement, with due process and safeguards, gaining access to private communications. I also bristle whenever gigantic transnational corporations seek to place themselves above elected governments. However, the legislation in question, as is the case more often than not, does not engage with the nuances of the technology it seeks to regulate, and in my opinion fails to balance individual and societal rights.
My hope is that the government listen to the arguments put forth, and refine or drop the changes. However, this is by no means certain (or, I fear, likely). Moreover, Apple has, on multiple recent occasions, shown its willingness to comply in the more minimal and spiteful way possible with legal constraints it doesn’t agree with, and so I have little doubt it would be good to its word. If that comes to pass, iMessage would be the most likely casualty for UK users.
With that in mind, making sure I have WhatsApp as a fallback seems prudent. It is, of course, possibly that WhatsApp will find themselves in a similar position as Apple, but given the degree to which it’s used for off-the-books Westminster discussions this seems like one thing that might actually get the politicians to sit up and take notice. It’ll be interesting to see when the penny drops.
Despite Brexit, the UK still has equivalent protections in the form of the Data Protection Act 2018, at least for the moment. [back]