The convenience of the WhatsApp messaging app outweighs concerns about privacy risks


There was a lot of hullabaloo about nothing last year towards the end over the WhatsApp updated and terms of service policy which needed users to allow sharing of their information within Facebook’s family of companies to facilitate, support, and integrate their activities and improve the messaging services. The policy which Facebook has recently started giving notifications on WhatsApp asking users to accept is set to officially take effect on May 15 this year. What new research has, however, revealed is that Africans have no choice but to accept it for the sake of their convenience. To be very clear though, the new Privacy Policy isn’t anything new really, but simply the statement of WhatsApp practices in a formal manner that the user must agree to in order to use the App.

The latest research by KnowBe4, the world’s largest integrated platform for cybersecurity has revealed that that awareness of cyber risk is on the increase in the African continent, yes, but the convenience overrides risk when it comes to WhatsApp data privacy concerns. Africa’s mobile users are concerned about the mobile risks and the potential for digital identity theft but this is not stopping them from using their favorite messaging platforms and applications.

The KnowBe4 Mobile Users in Africa survey gauged the opinions of Africa’s mobile users from Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, Egypt, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and Botswana on the recent decision by WhatsApp to update their terms and conditions, sharing metadata with the rest of the Facebook group of companies. The survey found that not only did the majority of the respondents across Africa intend to continue using WhatsApp; but also, that their favorite alternative to WhatsApp was Facebook Messenger.

Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist Africa at KnowBe4, says the recent WhatsApp privacy policy has spurred public discussions which resulted in more consumer awareness about their privacy rights as well as brought more visibility to alternative tools such as Signal, Telegram, and others.

“It is interesting to see that while most mobile users are concerned about their online privacy, Facebook Messenger, which was listed as the top alternative chat app, collects much more data than WhatsApp. This indicates that there may be a lack of understanding about the actual risks and implications of the new policy,” says Collard.

The imminent WhatsApp privacy policy change revealed some shifts, however, with 24% of respondents saying they were no longer allowed to use WhatsApp for work and 62% saying they were ‘somewhat concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the new privacy policy. Around 7.7% of respondents said they had – or planned to – cancel their WhatsApp accounts, with this number rising to 15% among South African respondents.

However, for most, the convenience of the platform outweighed concerns about privacy risks; with over half saying they had concerns but would continue using WhatsApp, even though they may have signed up to use other messaging tools. Just over a quarter of respondents had heard about the planned privacy terms changes but did not understand what the risks were.

For those also using alternative messaging tools, Facebook Messenger was the most popular, with over 80% electing to use this platform too. Over 56% also used Telegram, over 12% also used Signal, and 10% or less used Discord, Threema, or other messaging platforms. Collard said that from the survey, Africans are beginning to be more concerned about cybercrime when compared to the study carried out in 2019.

She revealed that in 2019, 37.86% were worried, and in 2020, the number had risen by 10% to 47.61% across all the eight countries where the interviews were carried out. She further noted that there is a need for mass education and awareness initiatives to enlighten the public about risks on social media and messaging platforms so as to secure them from risks such as identity theft, as well as to prevent potential breaches of sensitive corporate information via messaging platforms.

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