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POPIA update: Do you now need ‘consent’ to stay in a WhatsApp group chat?

If you’re in a WhatsApp group of any kind, you’ll need to have a look at this – the new POPIA laws come with some interesting permutations.


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The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) comes into force today, on Thursday 1 July. The new law requires businesses to ask for permission before soliciting any personal details from you, and all firms were given a year to prepare for the change to data privacy regulations. However, WhatsApp users have been dragged into a fierce debate.

What is POPIA?

The chances are, if you’re on WhatsApp and in South Africa, you’ve already been sent a message about POPIA compliance from at least one of your group chats. If you haven’t, count yourself lucky – the gist of it is this:

“We just need to share a POPIA disclaimer as all WhatsApp groups need to adhere to the Act from 1 July 2021. As we all know the compliance due date for POPIA, 30 June 2021, is steadfastly approaching. This deadline brings a few changes.”

“One of these changes is that the administrators will be required to obtain your consent for being part of this WhatsApp group. As such, you are herewith notified that you are entitled to refuse such consent and you may exercise such a right by leaving this group. If You Do NOT want or Need [to be] On This Group, Feel Free to remove Yourself.

This isn’t an official message. But it has been forwarded countless times over the past few days. Family chats, friend groups, and all sorts of casual WhatsApp collectives have also been bombarded by this warning. But just how much truth is in these claims? Well, it’s something that is still open to interpretation.

Verlie Oosthuizen, of Shepstone and Wylie Attorneys, told CapeTalk that it WILL be necessary for a number of WhatsApp group admins to secure consent from their members – due to how much personal information is shared in these chats.

“With WhatsApp every single time you are on a group, you can see who members of the group are, you can see their phone numbers, you can see what their profile picture is. Group admins must make sure that you have consented to having that personal information processed – and also your opinions on the group are classed as personal information.

However, several other legal groups do not subscribe to this way of thinking. Prominent outfits such as ENSafrica and Michalsons say that this is not a requirement for citizens, but for businesses only. So chats set up by workplaces or formal organisations will need to be POPIA compliant, but that’s not the case for groups featuring family and friends.

  • Sasha Berihal, of the Internet Service Providers Association, has perfectly summarised ‘the rule of thumb’ for us:

“I think the application of POPIA was misunderstood to an extent. Personal and home use is not governed by these principles. So the compliance message does not need to be posted in these type of groups. If there are WhatsApp groups for businesses, then they cannot add someone to a group without their consent.”