Ph.D. student Jayati Dev presented a poster, Understanding Privacy Concerns of WhatsApp Users in India at Hot Topics in the Science of Security [HoTSoS] April 10th-11th, 2018. The HoTSoS symposium brings together practitioners and researchers from academia, government, and industry and promotes dialogue focused on the growth and advancement of the scientific foundations of cybersecurity.
Dev’s research investigated WhatsApp security usage, group behavior, and privacy preferences among Indian users. The research team gathered data from online surveys over a period of three months in 2017. The survey queried 213 active WhatsApp users about their privacy attitudes and feature preferences. WhatsApp’s position as a powerful communication platform reaching all sectors of society worldwide and its functionality has led to unwanted sharing of contact information and tracking of women and other at risk populations. As she explains,
Our research is vital because there are only limited studies that focus on marginalized populations for mobile privacy and we hope that our work will initiate a discussion into making privacy choices more inclusive.
WhatsApp is a leading mobile communication platform that facilitates secure communication between individuals as well as groups. Its encryption allows users to communicate securely end to end, but it also creates challenges in sourcing the validity of shared information. WhatsApp also collects a significant amount of data on the user including location data, unique contact information, and additionally allows users to pair others in groupings without their consent. The study found that the majority of surveyed users were more concerned about their privacy in groups over individual interactions, think that their data is being collected, and found Blocking to be the most widely used feature.
Further study on the project culminated in recommendations for improved privacy in the WhatsApp platform that will be presented in HAISA 2018. Dev’s co-authors on the poster were Sanchari Das and L. Jean Camp.