The amount of misinformation around novel coronavirus and Covid-19 is staggering and presents a real danger both to the health of individuals and the wider community. To combat this threat, the UK Government has launched a WhatsApp bot to provide authoritative information on the virus.
The new free service aims to provide official, trustworthy and timely information about coronavirus (Covid-19) and reduce the burden on the National Health Service (NHS) and other under-pressure resources.
To engage with the bot, its phone number is 07860 064422 in the UK and connections are accepted from outside the country on +44 7860 064422.
Using the Covid-19 Bot is a little like using an interactive phone system: it’s respond “1 for this, 2 for that”.
Prof Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director, Public Health England, said, “This service will help us ensure the public has a trusted source for the right information about coronavirus, updated with the latest public health guidance and providing assurance that they are not misled by any of the false information circulating.”
The Bot doesn’t check symptoms or provide diagnoses – it’s purely for information – but it does provide guidance on what to do if you think you have Covid-19, although the guidance information is UK-centric.
Pressing “7” offers a “mythbusters” section from the World Health Organisation that debunks many of the rumours around Covid-19. Some of the myths are pretty farfetched but now there’s an official source to refute them.
The ubiquity of WhatsApp makes it a great tool for this kind of information dissemination but a downside of WhatsApp is that it requires word of mouth to pass the number on – there’s no central index. So get the word out.
An email from the Google Drive Team dropped into my inbox earlier this week to let me know that from November any WhatsApp backups won’t count against my storage quota on Google Drive. It’s welcome news especially for heavy WhatsApp users with the basic 15 GB Drive allowance.
Unaware that WhatsApp did backups? It’s worth checking out as it’s one of the app’s best features. It’s especially useful for moving to a new phone or if needing to do a factory reset as all the chats, photos and videos get restored to the new device. It’s also very straightforward to set up and once done, the backups happen in the background on a regular basis.
Here’s are the steps. On Android, to get WhatsApp configured for backups, hit the three dots in the top right and tap on “Settings”, then “Chats”.
On the “Chats” screen, it’s “Chat backup” and the “Chat backup” dialog is where all the not-very-hard work is done.
Choose how often the backup needs to happen, the account to use, whether to include videos and so on. I recommend daily backups over WiFi only with videos. Once configured, the green “BACK UP” button can be used to immediately send the chats to Google Drive. On Google Drive, the WhatsApp chats are stored in the “Backups” section – it’s blanked out because the mobile number is included in the name of the backup file.
When it comes to restoring a backup, it has to be done the first time the WhatsApp app is run after installation and WhatsApp will display a message about it. It’s not possible to restore to an old backup after using the app for awhile.
That’s it. Just do it now.
The wording implies that WhatsApp thinks that talking with your loved ones is an equally valuable experience as communicating with “businesses who matter to you”. I doubt many users are going to be convinced of that notion. No one joins a social media site or app because they simply cannot wait to connect with businesses and see more ads.
WhatsApp goes on to point out that they will share some user data with Facebook. It assures users that they have “rolled out end-to-end encryption”, and that user messages are encrypted by default.
WhatsApp also states that it won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and that it also won’t give your phone number to advertisers. Then, WhatsApp suggests that connecting your phone number to Facebook’s systems will enable Facebook to “offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads”.
If you are using both WhatsApp and Facebook, and you want to opt-out of this new change, you can. WhatsApp has instructions on how to do that directly from the app.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate how the WhatsApp deal will impact the privacy of its users. Facebook acquired WhatsApp just a few weeks ago.
The concern is that Facebook will use the personal information of WhatsApp’s more than 450 million users to target advertising. Those who started using WhatsApp before it was acquired by Facebook were told that WhatsApp would not collect user data for advertising revenue. The complaint states:
Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model. The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users’ understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
On June 18, 2012, WhatsApp posted a blog titled “Why we don’t sell ads”. Perhaps the key point is this sentence: “Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.”
WhatsApp also posted a blog on February 19, 2014, titled “Facebook”. It is about the acquisition. The key point from that blog might be this sentence: “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.” The blog promises that users can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting their communication through WhatsApp. Facebook has issued a statement indicating that they will honor WhatsApps commitments to privacy and security.
This situation reminds me of some words of wisdom that gets passed around. You cannot be certain that anything posted on “the internet” (on a blog, in a chat, or through social media) will be kept private forever. That being said, I can understand why users of WhatsApp feel betrayed. WhatsApp promised not to sell their data for adverting purposes. Will Facebook keep that promise? It will be very interesting to see what the FTC thinks about this situation.