‘Africans Unwilling to Quit WhatsApp, Despite Cybercrime Threats’

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By Emma Okonji

Africa’s mobile users are getting worried about the increase in cybercrime threats, considering the mobile risks and the potential for digital identity theft.

Despite the concern, they are not willing to quit the several WhatsApp platforms they belong to, because of their love for their favourite messaging platforms and applications, according to a recent research report released by KnowBe4, the African official site for security awareness creation.

The poll conducted by KnowBe4 revealed that awareness of cyber risk was on the increase, stating however that convenience overrides risk when it comes to WhatsApp data privacy concerns.
The poll was carried out among over 700 smartphone users in Nigeria, Mauritius, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Morocco and Botswana.

The KnowBe4 Mobile Users in Africa survey gauged the opinions of Africa’s mobile users on the recent decision by WhatsApp to update their terms and conditions, sharing metadata with the rest of the Facebook group of companies. The survey found that not only did the majority of the respondents across Africa intend to continue using WhatsApp; but also, that their favourite alternative to WhatsApp was Facebook Messenger.

Analysing the report, Senior Vice President, Content Strategy and Evangelist Africa at KnowBe4, Anna Collard, said the recent WhatsApp privacy policy spurred public discussions, which resulted in more consumer awareness about their privacy rights as well as brought more visibility to alternative tools such as Signal, Telegram, and others.

According to Collard, “It is interesting to see that while most mobile users are concerned about their online privacy, Facebook Messenger, which was listed as the top alternative chat app, collects much more data than WhatsApp. This indicates that there may be a lack of understanding about the actual risks and implications of the new policy.”

The imminent WhatsApp privacy policy change revealed some shifts, however, with 24 per cent of respondents saying they were no longer allowed to use WhatsApp for work and 62 per cent saying they were ‘somewhat concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the new privacy policy. Around 7.7 per cent of respondents said they had, or planned to cancel their WhatsApp accounts, with this number rising to 15 per cent among South Africans respondents.

The report however stated that for most, the convenience of the platform outweighed concerns about privacy risks; with over half saying they had concerns but would continue using WhatsApp, even though they may have signed up to use other messaging tools.

Just over a quarter of respondents had heard about the planned privacy terms changes but did not understand what the risks were.

“For those also using alternative messaging tools, Facebook Messenger was the most popular, with over 80 per cent electing to use this platform too. Over 56 per cent also used Telegram, over 12 per cent also used Signal, and 10 per cent or less used Discord, Threema or other messaging platforms,” the report said.

Collard, however added that: “What’s interesting is that, compared with the 2019 KnowBe4 African Report, respondents were even more concerned about cybercrime. In 2019, 37.86 per cent were worried, and in 2020, the number had risen by 10 per cent to 47.61 per cent. Across all eight countries, we see a growing awareness of the risks that come with cybercrime.”

However, she notes, there remains limited awareness of how to avoid risk, and the implications of data privacy terms and conditions. “This indicates a need for further education and awareness initiatives to enlighten the public about risks on social media and messaging platforms,” Collard said, adding that education and awareness remain key to protecting mobile users from risks such as identity theft, as well as to prevent potential breaches of sensitive corporate information via messaging platforms.