The Ethics of WhatsApp

The Ethics of WhatsApp

Whatsapp is a platform which is widely used, and widely exploited. This is a podcast of two halves. The first will talk about disinformation on WhatsApp. You may have heard about fake news in India, but disinformation is spread in other countries too. For this discussion, we focus on Brazil.

In the second half we’ll talk about how bankers and the finance industry is misusing WhatsApp. Although most banks have banned the app, bankers continue to use it because it is so simple and effective. However, this means they may be giving client data away, and perhaps more importantly (at least, from societies point of view), their conversations cannot be audited.

As always, I’ve got two wonderful guests with me. Charlotte Wood, who specialises in innovation, finance and FinTech. For her day job she is Head of Innovation at a financial organisation. She graduated from the University of Cambridge with a first class degree in Neuroscience, followed by a year of Management Studies. I’m also with Caio Machado He is a lawyer, Fellow at the Institute for Technology and Society (ITS-Rio), and researcher at the Computational Propaganda Project (ComProp). He holds a Masters degree in Internet and Data Law from the Université de Paris 1: Panthéon-Sorbonne, and holds a Law degree from the Universidade de São Paulo (USP). He is currently pursuing an MSc in Social Sciences of the Internet at the University of Oxford.


We discussed metadata in the podcast. This is a set of data that describes and gives information about other data. As you may have guessed, that definition was lifted straight from my friend, Google. Essentially, metadata in messages will tell you everything about the message, without actually saying what the message is. So if I message my friend Bex: “Hey, we on for dinner tonight?”, Facebook will know that my user ID messaged Bex’ user ID, at a particular time, from a particular location. They just don’t know what I actually said. Metadata can give away a lot about your comings and goings. You can perhaps learn more from metadata, than the actual data itself.

Disinformation vs misinformation

The latest (Feb 2019) DCMS committee report said ‘disinformation’ describes “the deliberate creation and sharing of false and/or manipulated information that is intended to deceive and mislead audiences, either for the purposes of causing harm, or for political, personal or financial gain”.

Misinformation is when you forward on an article which is fake, but you believe that it is true. Therefore, your intention is not to deceive, or mislead, your audience.

Get in touch

My email is alice [at] twaaats [dot] com and my Twitter is @alicelthwaite.

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