WhatsApp: Switched over almost unnoticed – one thing is different for users from now on

Deepak Gupta February 15, 2022
Updated 2022/02/15 at 9:03 PM

It may not be known to many, but a new legal regulation for the use of WhatsApp was introduced around two weeks ago. It has played an important role in daily communication since February 1st. The good thing is that most of us don’t have to worry about it at best. Others may be noticeably restricted as a result. Then: WhatsApp is 2022 now obliged to transmit personal data to authorities in the event of certain misconduct.

Obligation to report: This is new WhatsApp 2022

It has been known for a long time that things will change in general this year. At least various new functions for WhatsApp 2022 have already been announced. However, what has come into play since February has nothing to do with it. Rather, it is about protection against hate speech, which can still be distributed too easily and anonymously, not only via Messenger.

In February, the law passed by the Bundestag to “Combat Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crime” is to come into force. For messengers like WhatsApp, but also operators of other social networks and media, it means the following changes.

Valid for Facebook, WhatsApp and Co. 2022:

  • The obligation to report death threats, inflammatory statements and other criminal content to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) (so far only the deletion and blocking of users was mandatory)
  • Payment of fines for inadequate reporting systems
  • Clear legal basis for providers to provide information to law enforcement and security authorities

From 2022 WhatsApp will also pass on IP addresses

The new obligations that will be imposed on social media such as WhatsApp from 2022 include reporting the IP address when reporting. This should enable potential perpetrators to be identified more quickly. The attitude of politicians towards hate online is clear:

“We must stop the ever-new waves of hate. Contempt for human beings, racism, anti-Semitism – all of this is omnipresent on the Internet. Threats of murder or rape are not expressions of opinion, but criminal offenses that must be prosecuted consistently.”

Federal Minister of Defence, Christine Lambrecht (SPD) 2021 via Merkur.de

How it will be implemented remains to be seen. Often enough there are loopholes that operators of social networks and media try to exploit. A check is often not optimally possible due to a lack of capacity for follow-up.

Law to combat right-wing extremism and hate crime: That’s what’s behind it

On February 1, 2022, the law to combat right-wing extremism and hate crime officially came into force. This changed the Criminal Code, the Federal Registration Act and the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG).

The official justification for the law is a reporting obligation for the providers of social networks. Criminal content should be sent to the BKA so that the competent authorities can initiate criminal prosecution from there. Under the new regulation, this affects content with the following characteristics:

  • concrete indications of a threat to the democratic constitutional state
  • breach of public order
  • child pornography content
  • Threat to life, sexual self-determination, physical integrity or personal freedom

Providers of social media such as WhatsApp are obliged to report this under § 3a NetzDG. Conversely, this also includes informing users for whom the content was saved four weeks later. An exception is an objection by the Federal Criminal Police Office (§ 3a Para. 6 NetzDG).

This is what WhatsApp usage looks like in Germany

According to a current ARD/ZDF online study, around 70 percent of Germans aged 14 and over currently use the WhatsApp messenger every day. Telegram, Signal and Threema follow only after that and at a great distance. These use a maximum of three percent every day. Even TikTok (16 percent) and Instagram (23 percent) can’t keep up.

What data does WhatsApp have from me?

If you’re being honest, WhatsApp knows pretty much everything about you that you provide. All data that is entered into the messenger is also collected. This includes personal information such as phone number, date of birth, name, status and your profile picture.

In addition, Messenger reads your address book. Only the messages that you send via WhatsApp are not accessible to the service and are not stored on the company servers. This is due to the end-to-end encryption. It allows only the sender and recipient to read the content.

What does WhatsApp do with my data?

If, on the other hand, someone cannot be reached, sent messages are temporarily stored for 30 days and then automatically deleted. According to the experts at Dr.-Datenschutz.de, however, chat histories are stored unencrypted on the messenger server if you make a backup on Google Drive or locally. In this case, the otherwise typical encryption is omitted.

WhatsApp also collects metadata. So no content from messages and phone calls, but information about your related habits. For example, when you contact another person and how often. If enough such data is available, a comprehensive profile of users can be created.

Can WhatsApp be dangerous?

WhatsApp’s data collection frenzy has been a thorn in the side of data protectionists for some time. For example, the access to complete address books, just to install the application, is criticized. These are sent completely unencrypted to the servers in the USA. Even if there are people among them who have not even installed the messenger and were not able to give any consent to the transfer.

The fact that the service has belonged to Meta (formerly Facebook) since 2014 is also not reassuring. On the contrary. The social network itself has been responsible for several data protection scandals. There are also risks from chain letters, cyberbullying and subscription traps that users are confronted with. Anyone who uses WhatsApp should at least be aware of this and always question messages that are conspicuous.

Which messenger is the best and most secure?

If you no longer want to use Metas Messenger, there are numerous WhatsApp alternatives available to you. However, which one is best for you depends on various factors. Experts at least recommend the Signal app as a secure messenger. It is currently considered “the best we have”.

Sources: Federal Government, ARD/ZDF, Dr.-Datenschtutz.de, Merkur.de

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