…. under construction

Privacy Techtonics: Digital geopolitics, WhatsApp and India

We are writing up research for this project as a book, and in which we argue that the global dominance of the Meta owned messaging app WhatsApp, and the recent ideological and policy shift by big tech towards digital private spaces raises important questions about the balance between public and private interests in a digital age. Privacy Techtonics examines how as an idea and a practice, digital privacy is infused with power relations, from intimate spaces of everyday life to the board rooms of big tech and the policies of state governments.

Drawing on extensive research in India, WhatsApps largest market, Privacy Techtonics shifts attention away from western experiences of digital technology and privacy and decolonises privacy studies by centring the digital peripheriesand ordinary digital technologies. In this crucial context we ask who has a right to digital privacy, how is privacy constructed and regulated by different actors and stakeholders, and what are ordinary citizens’’ expectations and experiences of digital privacy? We examine how and why digital privacy is designed through end-to-end encryption, the legal and regulatory landscapes produced through relationships between big tech and government, and the digital lives of ordinary people. The book concludes that whilst WhatsApp is intended to enhance democratic life, in its largest global market, it is also implicated in undermining everyday democracy.

Kumar, Lipika, Philippa Williams and Pushpendra Johar (forthcoming)

Grassroots Authoritarianism: WhatsApp, middle class boundary making and pandemic governance in New Delhi’s neighbourhoods


Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, this paper documents how ordinary digital technologies, such as WhatsApp, were (re)appropriated for communication and pandemic coordination at a time when face-to-face meetings were impossible, there was also an emergent ‘dark’ side to its use by middle class Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs). In the context of India’s democratic backsliding, RWAs deployed everyday technologies to (re)configure exclusionary digital socio-spatial boundaries through practices of ‘grassroots authoritarianism’. The paper documents how the national government co-opted RWAs in the implementation of Covid-19 rules and examines their role as an extension of the state within a longer history of middle class power in India’s cities. We evidence how the ‘WhatsApp panopticon’ was mobilised as a tool of everyday community care and surveillance to shape morality regimes and influence compliance of residents with national and locally enforced rules. We argue that digital socio-spatial practices of securitisation, fear, and compliance represent forms of ‘grassroots authoritarianism’ that echo and ensconce state-led ideological change in India. Building on ‘everyday authoritarianism’ we show how digital technologies and middle class organisations are mediating India’s authoritarian shift from below.

Territory, Politics, Governance

For a Special Issue on Borders, bordering and sovereignty in digital spaces. Edited by Carwyn Morris and Chenchen Zhang

Oza, Ekta, Philippa Williams and Lipika Kamra (under review)

Digital Denizens


Environment and Planning C: Politics and Society


WhatsApp’s controversial privacy update may be banned in the EU – but the app’s sights re fixed on India

13 May 2021

Strategies to tackle extreme speech on WhatsApp must bring together socio-political, digital worlds

11 May 2019

India’s WhatsApp election: political parties risk undermining democracy with technology

28 February 2019