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The smartphone is a transparent technology. The fascination generated by its screen defines our present because we have downloaded a part of our life into it. But if we don’t want it to become a control tool, we have to go beyond glass. Understand that it connects us with real people, and reflect on the politics of cyberspace.
The smartphone is a tool with which we interact with the world. The icons that occupy your screen are not toys, it is an interface that allows us to do things. WhatsApp, for example, is a cornerstone of our society. In their chats we do everything from composing songs to closing deals; from keeping memories to falling in love. Every time we press the green icon, we enter a world of real possibilities, because we share conversations with real people.
Lack of understanding and misinformation
It is true that our relationship with WhatsApp has worsened. There are chats that we avoid entering, and groups that we never respond to. But the basic functions of the app have not changed, it is still a space for dialogue between people. Only now we muddy it by forwarding memes without criteria, sharing links to press articles that we have not read or interrupting with other people’s ideas so as not to listen. And as in other spaces, when the dialogue breaks down, the conversations are lost.
WhatsApp can limit the forwarding function so that we think before we act: who might be interested in that message? what it says? That limits the constant bombardment that collapses our attention.
However, responsibility remains individual. Saving our chats and groups, preventing misinformation and tension from colonizing our conversations is in our hands. We just have to act responsibly, in a civilized manner.
WhatsApp, a necessity?
The other option is that WhatsApp breaks, and with it, a part of our day to day. What would we do? How to rebuild our lives without this application, without the people with whom we connect? There are people who only respond to wasaps, would we lose it?
It is not unthinkable. I, on May 15, I run out of WhatsApp. I have done nothing wrong. They kick me off WhatsApp because I am privileged. I am lucky that the essential chats for my life are on Signal. I do not need to enter WhatsApp every day. I have an alternative, and I can calmly assess whether I want to accept the new changes in the conditions of service posed by Facebook.
Most of my contacts will have hit “OK” without reading, in a rush to see a message. Others will have read it, and even if they don’t like it, they have to grudgingly accept Facebook’s coercion. Your only alternative is to have your entire schedule swiftly switched to another messaging tool. This includes bosses, work contacts, and people who don’t know how to install applications. They need to continue on WhatsApp and they have to accept what Facebook imposes. They are trapped, they are hostages, and they have no escape.
European laws, a privacy shield
However, they are not helpless. The law is on our side. The European General Data Protection Regulation (RGPD) collides with the new WhatsApp service conditions. Apparently, European citizens guarantee us special treatment and they will not affect how they will treat our data.
For Facebook, the European GDPR is a problem. He has even tried to pressure the institutions by insinuating that they would stop operating in the EU if they did not solve the problems for their business not being able to take our data outside of Europe. Attention, “your business” is not to operate a social network, but to turn Facebook Ads into the best possible platform to segment the market. Your business requires collecting all kinds of data and metadata.
It is reassuring to know that Facebook is not able to process our data in Europe in a satisfactory way. It means that there is still room for politics to also “limit forwarding” from the tech giants (Big Tech). That is why the GDPR is inspiring change on a global level.
Along these lines, the Inter-American Juridical Committee, an advisory body of the Organization of American States, has just approved Updated Principles on Privacy and Protection of Personal Data that offer greater security to users. Reviewed by the Ibero-American Data Protection Network, the document constitutes a legislative basis for data protection for the countries of the American continent, especially for those that do not yet have legislation on this subject.
The privileged position of those of us who have European citizenship cannot be a reason to consent to an unfair taxation. We cannot take refuge behind a digital citizenship in the non-existent borders of cyberspace. The solution is not to invent digital passports. We have to take joint responsibility, and the simplest solution is to apply the vision of the future that Mark Zuckerberg presented for Facebook in 2019.
We need to face the reality of cyberspace. Accept that it is a part of our life and assume a civic responsibility. We must take care of our conversations in chats, and make conscious decisions about the technology that makes them possible.
Letting Facebook kick me off WhatsApp is a way to invite those who matter most to me to talk about this, although it will have to be in Signal.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
Iago Ramos coordinates the Teaching Innovation Project “Signal as a virtual classroom”, and is a volunteer translator of the Signal application into Spanish. He does not receive any financial compensation.