Is Data Privacy Good For Community Managers?

The announcement made by WhatsApp last month about changes in its privacy policy sent shockwaves across India. The young community management industry in India has relied heavily on WhatsApp groups to grow. On a daily basis, many hobby, professional, family and networking communities in India thrive on WhatsApp.

The fear that data privacy of the community members may be breached led to wide repercussions and users started leaving WhatsApp. Signal app reached a sort of virality – even WhatsApp had to issue a clarification & put its policy changes on hold.


What Exactly Has Changed?

Frankly, not much has changed than how it was earlier, except that Facebook is working towards its goal of unifying Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp for building a seamless platform for businesses and transactions.

The Murky History Of Facebook

In recent years, as Zuckerberg’s influence grows, Facebook has been accused of tampering with the basic DNA of WhatsApp. Even the original founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton fell out and left WhatsApp in 2018.

In 2016, end-to-end encryption was introduced for all communications on WhatsApp. Later that year, WhatsApp shared that it would share the phone numbers and user analytics data with Facebook for operations improvement. Therefore, we have been knowingly or unknowingly sharing a lot of information with Facebook since 2016.

Facebook is notorious for its alleged fiddling with user data. But in this case, most of it is data that is widely available on your social media accounts or within the various job-applications or forms you fill up on the internet each day. You may also be sharing such data knowingly or unknowingly with various other apps.

The Privacy Question

According to the Tendulkar commission’s assessment, poverty in India is gauged at under Rs 30/day. It essentially gives you a rough idea about the quality of human lives in one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. A developmental question that baffles many is that if the value of human life appears to be held at such low pedestals, how can data related to those lives be valued higher?

And let us be very clear here – we are not talking about private or sensitive communications/texts/calls/or videos. For a country that hitherto was the largest contributor to the revenues of an unsecured app like TikTok and even for that matter PUBG, how did WhatsApp data privacy suddenly become a big issue – especially the business ended data?

Most of us use Google Search, Chrome, YouTube & Gmail on a daily basis, employing digital home assistants like Alexa to simplify our lives. Ever paid a thought about the kind of information getting collected there? We simply can’t, unless a sense of data protection paranoia sinks in.

If you’ve watched The Social Dilemma or Snowden, you may already be aware of the dangers in store. It’s true that companies are after your data and tracking your browsing habits. In fact, many people have started selling digital identities for money. But data privacy laws also become a clog in the bottle-neck for digital growth.


The Downsides Of Data Privacy Laws For Communities & Businesses

The most important question follows now. Is all the hullabaloo worth it? There are many contentious issues around data-privacy, mostly around the fact that it limits the growth of new micro-communities to a great extent. For a country like India where data privacy has mostly been an alien concept, an abrupt stringency may make matters worse. Here are some ways how:

1. Cost, Compliance & Complication Issues: The amount of money that needs to be spent on having a dedicated privacy officer for all businesses or groups is bound to affect the purses of companies or individual community managers who have monetized their communities. On the other hand, failure to comply with such data protection laws may attract greater fines in days ahead.

For a recovering economy hurt by a pandemic lockdown, the implications are unenvious. Also, in order to enforce compliance with these rules, there will naturally be interference from various agencies. For a nascent industry like community-management, built on the back of platforms like Whatsapp, Telegram, Slack & others – the complications are only going to increase because of these.

The size of data in 2022 is going to be 40 times more than what it was in 2020, according to a Hindu report. At the same time, the interests of tech and commercial entities, as well as that of group managers need to be protected. For any kind of unexpected lapse on a group, the admins or organizations handling the same are liable to get stricter punishments.

While this is ideally good, it would lead to stricter enforcement of group rules and likely to make the process of onboarding members and community management more rigorous and complicated.

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2. Loss Of Analytics & Insights: The stricter norms for countering business data sale, while helping individual users from spamming, is also definitely going to add to the loss of analytics in the identification of member activity that community managers rely on while scaling up. Further to that, monetized communities that incentivize members based on the same metrics will also be affected.

An Accenture study suggests that a $30 billion retail company could lose $4 billion in future revenue following a material drop in trust borne out of data privacy issues. Consumers are increasingly aware of data privacy issues and their rights. A Trūata survey found that 60% of consumers are uneasy with companies using their data for analytics.

Some 74% are also nervous about their personal details being sold to third parties, and 65% say they are more likely to be loyal to a company if they trust them to use personal data properly.

Data protection rules shouldn’t infringe on the promotion of the digital economy and that is a major concern. There is a blur in the boundaries between personal & non-personal data – a thorn in the flesh for community builders.

3. Loss Of Knowledge Accumulated Through Old Conversations: With wide uncertainty about the storage of data, analysis based on archived or accumulated chats and history are likely to face the music. In a hyper-connected world, data-localization can’t be a solution to this, especially when data is hosted, posted, updated, and accessed often through insecure public networks in a decentralized environment. Shifting the onus totally on the group admin or platform owner is definitely not going to help.

While one appreciates the pros that data privacy adds to user experience, one can’t turn a blind eye to any of the above limitations it poses to the growth of digital business and the community management industry. Hoping that the best possible law is implemented, taking into consideration the aspirations of all stakeholders – both commercial and personal.

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