Our data, payment for the use of social networks

The most important leakage of information among Mexicans is through screenshots of conversations, highlighting the study conducted in 2021-2022. WhatsApp creates addiction in 42.8 percent of users, 53.3 percent feel happy and 17.8 percent feel anxious.

Our data, payment for the use of social networks
Payment for the use of social and digital networks is our data. Photo by Mika Baumeister / Unsplash

WhatsApp is the main engine of dissemination in Mexico and the world. It is one of the most prominent instant messaging social-digital networks because it allows communication with other people and the acquisition of information "almost immediately", says UNAM researcher Luis Ángel Hurtado Razo.

In the opinion of Rubén Darío Vázquez Romero, professor at the Facultad de Estudios Superiores (FES) Aragón, perhaps one of the aspects to complain about WhatsApp would be the privacy of users, since it does not necessarily have the best protection platform, especially for those sensitive references that could be exposed.

This application is used to share documents, conversations from other networks such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok. According to the Federal Telecommunications Institute (IFT), it is the second most used in Mexico, after Facebook.

A study conducted in 2021 and 2022 by Hurtado Razo, an academic at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences (FCPyS), in a sample of 1,253 people from the 32 states of the Mexican Republic, 96 percent of those who have internet access use WhatsApp and do so six to eight hours a day.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mexicans will go from two to three hours a day on this platform in 2020, to more than six in 2021 and 2022, which is associated with the performance of Mexicans in the work, educational, family, economic, commercial, etcetera.

Women are the ones who use this social network the most (66.67 percent). In a first study (2019-2020), prepared by this consultancy, there was a technical tie with men; "they were at 50 percent of use". Due to the health emergency and the activities of the female sector (family, education, work, etc.), the need for this tool increased among them.

Currently, the age of WhatsApp users is between 31 and 40 years old, (37.5 percent of those interviewed). In 2020 there was almost a tie with the 21 to 30 age group (35 percent); however, it decreased in 2021 to 27 percent. Those aged 41 to 50 had nine percent; now 15.8 percent.

In 2021, based on IFT data, 93 to 94 million Mexicans used the internet; 100 percent of them, Facebook; 96 percent (approximately 89 million), WhatsApp.

The risk with the latter network is "the violation of people's privacy". Most of them share "screenshots" of conversations; the main leak of information among Mexicans is through screenshots. Another data from the 2021 Applied Political Communication study is that 57 percent of those interviewed reported that it did not generate addiction or dependence, but 42.8 percent did.

Fake news, a growing industry

On a scale of zero to 10 (10 represents 100 of trust), credibility in the first survey was rated seven to eight by almost 70 percent of those interviewed. While in the second survey 22.62 percent gave it a value of five and seven (16.7 percent). In other words, in two years of the pandemic, users stopped believing to a large extent in what they share on WhatsApp, due to a recurrent and growing phenomenon: the propagation of falsehoods.

Sending falsehoods through people we don't know has increased by almost 100 percent. In the first study, 10 percent were unknown, while in the second the figure rose to 19.5 percent. In the confinement, the disinformation industry "has been very active."

78.5 percent realized it was false because they doubted and consulted other media; 52.3 percent said they did not believe what they received, but 47.6 responded that they did or at least came to believe it.

Because of the health emergency, it is "very delicate that almost half of WhatsApp users believed in false information related to not getting vaccinated, medicines and remedies or supposed government information." 33.3 percent accepted it due to the titles and presentation (design) of the one shared with them.

The "black gold of the 21st century

It is important to remember that this application belongs to Meta, an American conglomerate of technology and social networks, and one of the largest companies of its kind in the world, whose services are oriented, precisely, to the construction of a series of interconnected platforms with a view to the metaverse.

WhatsApp is not interested in the conversations that we as users might have, but in our Internet browsing habits, geolocation -the places where we are physically present-, the electronic purchases we make, everything is collected to create marketing profiles that constitute the "black gold of the 21st century".

This personal information comes at a cost and sells well in the advertising and marketing market. While we are increasingly aware of the value of our data, we are not necessarily understanding it deeply.

It would seem that these types of platforms are free, but this is not the case, they charge for the information they collect and it is put up for sale to create guidelines, spaces, and more marketing profiles. Everything we do on Facebook or Instagram, in addition to the way we browse the Internet, creates an advertising profile of us over which we have no control and suddenly we could receive unwanted ads.

While the technologies we have can be excellent, we must be careful with the handling of our data that describe and precise us; understand that they are a payment for the use of social networks.

Vázquez Romero recommends not downloading free applications of unknown origin that allow us to visualize how we could look like if we were of the opposite sex or advanced age or virtual games. If we install them on our devices we grant a series of permissions, of which we are not necessarily aware, to access our contacts, location, photographs, phone calls, navigation monitoring, and so on.

Substantial tool

With more than a decade of functioning as one of the most popular instant messaging services in the world, WhatsApp has created a global community that brings together more than 1.6 billion people, which means that it has become a substantial tool for our daily work.

In 2020, during the pandemic, we had a forced digitalization, that is, we advanced several years in the handling of digital tools and the interaction with virtual platforms and, undoubtedly, at the peak (during the confinement), WhatsApp kept us communicated, close and, above all, present in the lives of our loved ones.