Facebook, Inc, the owner of a social messaging application WhatsApp has announced it will end support of their application to smartphones that are not running on iOS 9 and Android 4.0.3 operating systems or the latest versions starting 2021.

This move by Facebook, Inc has been seen by experts and WhatsApp users on the African continent as a huge set back to the gains made over the years to improve communication and access to information to people from poor communities.

In Africa, some people inherit older smartphone versions from wealthier relatives while others purchase older versions because of their affordability. 

WhatsApp, is the most popular messaging App in Africa, according to a 2018 report by We Are Social and Hootsuite. 

The iPhone models that will not be able to access WhatsApp in 2021 include all iPhone 4 and earlier models. 

But people who use iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6S, can update their operating system versions to iOS 9 or later to continue using WhatsApp.

For Android users, WhatsApp will stop supporting HTC Desire, LG Optimus Black, Motorola Droid Razr, and Samsung Galaxy S2 among others that do not run on Android 4.0.3.

Cade Zvavanjanja, a managing director at Baker Tilly Digital, a cyber security and forensics based firm based in Zimbabwe, told BizTech Africa that the California based messaging App’s move will deprive the poor access to information and connection  to the world via WhatsApp until they catch up with device technology.

“There is a higher possibility that the users at some point may come back after catching up on the technology evolution, though it has a cost associated with it,” he said.

This is not the first time that Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, Inc is ending support of WhatsApp to some users as some devices stopped accessing this messaging App back in February 2020.

Facebook, Inc spokesperson told BizTech Africa that the phasing out of WhatsApp to some smartphones is routine and only a limited number of people will be affected.

“We do, over time, cease to offer support for the oldest operating systems that certain older phones run on, requiring users to upgrade to newer operating systems in order to keep using WhatsApp,” said the spokesperson.

“It is standard practice for technology companies not to maintain support for older and dwindling hardware models indefinitely, in order to use those resources to support new and growing platforms and other new products for our users.”

The spokesperson said before they take such action, they provide notices in the app to the very small group of users who would be impacted so that they can learn more about how they can keep using WhatsApp.

“The overall number of users who will be affected by this worldwide is very small. [Some] users simply need to upgrade their operating systems to one of those we support in order to be able to continue using WhatsApp,” said the spokesperson. 

Zvavanjanja said Facebook, Inc, has adequate empirical evidence to make that delicate security-cost-benefit analysis. “The issue on gains is more of reverse causality, allowing and supporting legacy operating systems may be expensive and highly vulnerable, hence reducing overall security, this may affect more users than they will lose on the upgrade cost associated with it,” he said.

“The abandoned legacy operating systems are no longer being supported hence vulnerabilities are not being patched and also security is not being hardened, leaving the users exposed to cyber-attacks.”

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