Erdogan becomes first world leader to ditch WhatsApp

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s media office announced Sunday that it will be discarding the popular instant messaging app WhatsApp, following its controversial privacy policy update.

Instead, the office said it has decided to switch to Turkish homegrown application BiP.

According to statements made through WhatsApp, presidential officials said the media office will begin updating journalists using BiP, a unit of Turkish communication company Turkcell, as of Monday 18 January.

Worldwide backlashes seem to be mounting over WhatsApp’s approach of giving users an ultimatum of either handing in their private data or deleting the app entirely, with many Turkish citizens calling for the boycott of the app on Twitter, using the hashtag #DeletingWhatsApp.

Even the head of the Turkish Presidential Digital Transformation Office, Ali Taha Koc, took to Twitter to voice his criticism over the instant messaging app’s privacy policy, and the exemption from the new data-sharing rules for users in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

He called on Turks to use “national and local” apps such as BiP and Dedi.

“The distinction between EU member countries and others in terms of data privacy is unacceptable! As we have cited in the Information and Communication Security Guideline, foreign origin applications bear significant risks regarding data security,” Koc said in a tweet.

“That’s why we need to protect our digital data with local and national software and develop them in line with our needs. Let’s not forget that Turkey’s data would stay in Turkey thanks to local and national solutions,” he added in his lengthy thread.

Turkey has had a strict approach toward all social media giants.

Back in November 2020, the country fined global social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, 10 million lira ($1.18m) each for not complying with a new social media law.

The new law, which came into effect in October, require platforms with more than one million daily users in Turkey to appoint a representative accountable to Turkish courts, abide by orders to remove “offensive” content within 48 hours and store user data inside Turkey.

According to Turkish state media quoting Turkcell, BiP gained more than 1.12 million users in just 24 hours, boasting more than 53 million users worldwide.

WhatsApp users who refuse to comply with the updated policy – that will come into effect as of February 8 – will no longer have access to their chats, contacts, and access to the app as a whole. The update will be visible in the form of an in-app notification, which users can choose to ignore until the date arrives.

“By tapping Agree, you accept the new terms, which take effect on February 8, 2021,” the notification states, adding that “After this date, you’ll need to accept the new terms to continue using WhatsApp. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account.”

Under the terms of the new policy, Facebook will be able to collect users’ data from the app such as their phone number, email address, contacts, location, device ID, user ID, advertising data, purchase history, product interaction, payment info, crash, performance, and other diagnostic data, customer support, and metadata.

U.S.-based data analytics firm Sensor Tower reported that new installs of WhatsApp fell by 11 percent in the first week of 2021, compared with the previous week.

However, this has amounted to an estimated 10.5 million downloads globally.