Whatsapp is one of the leading OTT messaging platforms, which has been owned by the tech giant Meta since 2013. WhatsApp enjoys a user base of nearly 2.24 billion people globally, with almost 487 million users in India. Since the advent of Whatsapp, it has been the most commonly used messaging app, and it has made an impact to such an extent that it is used for professional as well as personal purposes. Meta powers the platform and follows similar guidelines and policies as its parent company.
The New Feature
Users of WhatsApp on the web and desktop can now access one account from various devices. One WhatsApp account may now be used on up to four handsets thanks to a new update from Meta. Be aware that the multi-device capability has been planned for some time and is finally being made available to stable WhatsApp users. Each linked device (up to four devices can be linked) will function independently, and the independent devices will continue to receive messages even if the central device’s network connection is lost. Remember that WhatsApp will automatically log out of all the companion devices if the primary smartphone is dormant for an extended period. Four more gadgets may be a mix of four PCs and smartphones or four smartphones. This feature is now available for updates and downloads on Android as well as iOS platforms.
As we go deeper into the digital age, it is the responsibility of the tech giants to pilot innovation with features of security by design. Thus such new features should be accompanied by coherent safety and security policies or advisories to ensure the users understand the implications of the new features. Convenience over conditions is an essential part of cyberspace. It points to the civic duty of netizens to go through the conditions of any app rather than only focus on the convenience it creates. The following potential issues may arise from the new features on Whatsapp –
- Increased cybercrime- The bad actors now do not need to access SIM cards to commit frauds over the platforms as now on a single number 4 devices can be used hence the cybercriminal activity can increase over the platform. It is also pertinent for the platform to create SoPs for fake accounts which use multiple devices, as they pose a direct threat to the users and their interests.
- Difficulty in identifying and tracing- The LEAs will face a significant issue in identifying the bad actors and tracing them as the individual’s involvement through a linked device needs to be given legal validity and scope for investigation. This may also cause issues in evidence handling and analysis.
- Surge in Misinformation and Disinformation- With access to multiple devices, the screen time of an individual is also bound to increase. This leads to more time spent online, thus causing a rise in instances of misinformation and disinformation by bad actors. Thus the aspect of fack checking is of prime importance.
- Potential Oversharing of Personal Data- With the increased accessibility on different devices, it is very easy for the app to seek data from all devices on which the app is running, thus leading to a bigger reservoir of personal data for the platforms and data fiduciaries.
- Higher risk of Phishing, Ransomware and Malware Attacks- As the devices under the same login credentials and mobile number will increase, the message can be viewed on all the devices, thus increasing the risk of widespread embedded ransomware and malware in multiple devices is and ever-present threat.
- One number, more criminals- This feature will allow cybercriminals to operate using one device only, earlier they used to forge Adhaar cards to get new sims, but this feature will enable the bad actors to commit crimes and attacks from one single SIM using 4 different devices.
- Rise in Digital Footprint- As the number of devices increases, the users will generate more digital footprints. As a tech giant, Meta will have access to a bigger database, which increases the risk of data breaches by third-party actors.
In the fast-paced digital world, it is important to remain updated about new software, technologies and policies for our applications or forms of tech. This was a long-awaited feature from WhatsApp, and its value of it doesn’t lie in technological advancement only but also in the formulation of policies to govern this technology towards the trust and safety aspect of users. The platforms, in synergy with the policy makers, need to create a robust framework to accommodate the new features and add-ons on apps vehicle, staying in compliance with the laws of the land. Awareness about new features and vulnerabilities is a must for all netizens, and it is a shared responsibility for all netizens to spread the word about safety and security mechanisms.
Author : Mr. Abhishek Singh, Lead – Policy and Advocacy, CyberPeace