In this week’s news, we report on WhatsApp’s recent update to their terms of service, Post Brexit roaming charges in EU, Changes in COVID-19 misinformation and more.
WHATSAPP’S NEW TERMS OF SERVICE CAUSE CONSTERNATION
The messaging app, WhatsApp, which claims to have privacy coded into its DNA, has caused consternation amongst users by its recent notification sent to billions of people around the world. It requires them to agree to new terms and conditions by 8th February (since extended to 15 May 2021) or they will not be able to use the app anymore. The new terms require consent to user data being shared with its parent company, Facebook.
This has inspired a huge increase in subscriptions, including from UK users, to other encrypted messaging platforms such as Signal and Telegram who offer much greater privacy.
Although messages sent on WhatsApp will stay encrypted, which prevents them from being read by WhatsApp or any third party, other data which can be collected about our use of the platform and those we communicate with can be very useful to an information gathering company like Facebook.
Thanks to EU privacy regulations, the new terms will not take effect in the European Area (including the UK) although the notification has been sent to everyone. But if UK users communicate with people in countries outside the EU, they might want to consider changing platforms. The new WhatsApp Terms of Service can be found here.
POST BREXIT MOBILE ROAMING CHARGES IN EU
Since leaving the EU, fees for using a mobile phone in the EU are no longer capped for UK users. Ofcom has put together a series of frequently asked questions and answers to help UK residents with understanding what that could mean for them.
It advises that all providers are required to publish details of their tariffs and to send users basic details of roaming prices, on arrival in a different country. In most cases, there is an automatic £45 per month limit on data charges, no matter where you are in the World.
We recommend using Wi-Fi when possible when abroad, in order to avoid any surprises when your bill comes in and to check your provider’s website for more information on their new roaming rules.
COVID-19 MISINFORMATION CHANGES FOCUS
Ofcom has published results on how people in the UK are getting news on the COVID-19 crisis. This online survey has been done on a weekly basis since August 2020.
The survey revealed that a third of people had received misinformation on the crisis in the past week, but the focus had changed significantly over the course of the pandemic. Misinformation about 5G had reduced significantly, with theories about facemasks either having no impact or being harmful, becoming more common. What hasn’t changed is the source of the misinformation, with most respondents citing social media as the source.
Misinformation on social media can be especially harmful as it tends to spread widely and at a high speed. Of particular concern are recent reports of fake news concerning the contents of the vaccine. False suggestions that it contains pork or that it alters people’s DNA have been blamed for causing some people to reject the vaccine on religious grounds.
It is important for the public to get their information from trusted sources such as their local health authority or WHO.
If you have seen misinformation, stop the spread by reporting it to the hosting platform. For a step-by-step guide on how to report a post read the WHO guide.
DANGEROUS STUNTS ON TIKTOK
Network Rail condemned a recent video spotted on social media platform, TikTok. The post showed a car parked on the tracks at a level crossing with the caption ‘Would you take the risk to get the shot no one else would?’
Stunts like this are obviously dangerous, both for those in the car but also for train drivers and passengers. British Transport Police are now investigating to find the creator of the video in order to bring them to justice. Trespassing on railway lines is a criminal offence.
The video caption plays to the sort of dare devil bravado that sometimes tempts youngsters to emulate risky stunts. It can be difficult to address issues like this without spreading the idea further. It may be better to remind young people, in a general context that no picture or video is ever worth risking their life for, without giving any further publicity to this stunt.
HAS BIG TECH ABANDONED FREE SPEECH?
Following last week’s deadly riots at the Capitol, both Twitter and Facebook banned US President Donald Trump from their platforms. Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube soon followed their lead. Twitter boss, Jack Dorsey said he believes Twitter has done the right thing and stated it should have been done sooner.
Some suggest that these moves by the big tech companies have come cynically late, after they have benefitted hugely from Trump’s involvement on their platforms. Whilst some welcome the move and see it as social media companies finally showing some responsibility, others are concerned that it represents a worrying limit on freedom of speech and too much power in the hands of already powerful tech monopolies.
The rights and wrongs of social media platforms censoring their users should provide interesting debate and essay topics in classrooms across the World.
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