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Wednesday, 12 May 2021 16:43

WhatsApp and Facebook to face government questioning over controversial privacy changes.

Staff Reporter.

Facebook is scheduled to answer questions in parliament later this month, with a focus on its role in misinformation and the protection of the digital privacy of its South African users.

The Democratic Alliance’s Phumzile Van Damme, who requested the meeting, said that session is scheduled to take place on 25 May, and will also include questions around WhatsApp’s recent policy changes.

The DA has previously raised concerns around misinformation spread on the social media platforms – especially around Covid-19.

"South Africa’s parliament is currently being left behind while legislators across the globe push for social media reform and strengthened content moderation on social media platforms," it said in a statement earlier this year.

"In the South African context, and in line with our Constitution, stronger content moderation would mean removing content that incites violence; and advocates for hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion. Full freedom of expression that does not fall into this categories must be protected."

South Africa’s information regulator Pansy Tlakula has also expresed interest in questioning Facebook in parliament.

"I think we need to take this giant on and say to it, it can’t be business as usual. They cannot willy-nilly abuse the personal information of users," she said this week.

Tlakula has previously held meetings with WhatsApp representatives over its proposed user policy changes.

WhatsApp has faced increased scrutiny for a new policy that will require users to accept new terms and conditions if they wish to continue using the messaging app.

An analysis of the changes shows that features will be systematically reduced until the app is unusable if users fail to accept the policy.

If you have not accepted WhatsApp’s new policy "after a period of several weeks", the notification requesting your acceptance "will eventually become persistent".

  • Initially you will lose access to your chat list and you will not be able to open or respond to any messages. At this point, you will still be able to answer incoming calls.
  • The only way to access your chats or return calls will be by making sure all notifications for WhatsApp are turned on.
  • This will enable you to continue communicating on WhatsApp without actually opening the app, which you will no longer be able to do.
  • "If you have notifications enabled, you can tap on them to read or respond to a message or call back a missed phone or video call," the support article states.
  • Then, "after weeks of limited functionality, you won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone".
  • This will in effect render the app unusable for anyone who has not accepted the new policy.
  • The only function still available at this point will be to download and export your chat history and to receive a report of your account.

WhatsApp said that a user’s account will not be deleted if they do not accept the policy.