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Privacy laws: Regulator and Parliament to take Facebook, WhatsApp to task

On Saturday, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, implemented its controversial new terms of service, nearly six months after it first announced plans to do so.

The Regulator believes that despite WhatsApp operating in different legal and regulatory environments, there are effectively two privacy policies for the users of WhatsApp.

Information Regulator chairperson Pansy Tlakula Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Regulator chairperson Pansy Tlakula said there were substantial differences between the policies for users in Europe compared to the one for users outside Europe.

As a result Tlakula has written to WhatsApp and requested it to revise the privacy policy in South Africa to the standard used in the EU.

“We are obligated, as the Regulator, to ensure the protection of personal information of all South African citizens and monitor compliance of the Popia by responsible parties. We therefore will take this matter further and seek legal opinions and advocate for collaborative efforts.”

At the same time, Facebook has accepted an invitation by Parliament’s communications and digital technologies committee to discuss what steps the tech giant will be taking in tackling harmful misinformation, as South Africa heads towards the 2021 local government elections in October.

The committee will tomorrow hold a virtual round table discussion on the impact of digital media on misinformation and content moderation in line with its February 2021 resolution.

The resolution resolved, among other things, to look closely at the role of communication on elections.

Committee member Phumzile van Damme said: “Facebook often tailors plans for countries ahead of elections to guard against harmful misinformation. We would like to see the same done for South Africa.

“Also of importance is the protection of the private data of South African users of Facebook-owned platforms as well as the beginning of discussions regarding Facebook paying South African media houses for carrying their content as was recently successfully implemented in Australia.”

The committee has also invited Twitter and Google SA but they have yet to respond.
Meanwhile, Cape Town based company, Sea Monster, has won the US Africa Tech Challenge, with an innovative approach to combat Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation.

Sea Monster CEO Glenn Gillis said: “Sea Monster was one of eight finalists who presented their solutions to an audience of government, civil society, and private sector stakeholders. As winners, Sea Monster will receive a sub-grant of approximately $100 000 (about R1.4 million) to develop their idea.”
Sea Monster’s business development director, Soraiya Verjee, said: “The funding from this award will allow us to offer our solution to any public or private sector organisation to supplement and complement their vaccine-related communications programmes.”

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