Luiza Ferreira always confirms her client’s requirement for her services the day before a task via WhatsApp. Ferreira works as a cleaner in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and cleans several residences on a daily basis. If the work is verified, she will not waste money on her commute and will have a guaranteed paycheck for that day. She tries to accommodate another client into her schedule if the job isn’t verified so she doesn’t lose money for the day.
Whatsapp Outage, however, took place on October 4th. For six hours, Facebook’s services, including WhatsApp, were unavailable due to a configuration change in the company’s internal network. Ferreira’s business came to a halt when he was cut off from Brazil’s principal source of communication.
“THAT’S INCOME I CAN’T REALLY GET BACK”
“By the time I switched to SMS instead of WhatsApp, it was too late, and I couldn’t schedule another client for the next day,” Ferreira said in a WhatsApp audio chat with The Verge. “I sent my client a text message, but she didn’t see it. My life was completely affected when Whatsapp Outage.”
The outage only lasted six hours, but it lost Ferriera two days’ worth of wages because she couldn’t book work for the next day. “That’s money I won’t be able to replace,” she says.
In Brazil, the most popular internet platforms are Facebook and WhatsApp, which bridge regional and social divisions. Facebook is used by 59% of the population, and WhatsApp is used by 66%, making the services a form of necessary infrastructure for the country. Professor Rafael Grohmann, the coordinator of the DigiLabour Research Lab at the University of Oxford and a collaborator on the initiative Fairwork, attributed Brazilians’ use of WhatsApp over text messaging or email to a number of variables. Brazil lacks the necessary telecom infrastructure and market share to make communications services inexpensive, and the free software lets Brazilians avoid paying for expensive messaging services.
“LOADS OF CLIENTS WERE CALLING A SINGLE PHONE NUMBER”
“[WhatsApp] became the site where everything was done throughout the pandemic,” Grohmann adds.
The app has become especially important for freelance workers, who rely on it to keep track of their work schedules, bill clients, and sell goods. As a result, when both platforms went down, Ferreira’s and millions of other informal laborers’ livelihoods fell down with them. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 34.7 million Brazilians labor in the country’s informal economy, where they lack the security of regular employment and benefits. Due to the rising economic crisis in Brazil, the number of informal workers has increased by 40% during the pandemic.
There are a number of competing services for finding casual labor, the most well-known of which is Uber and Rappi, though they all take a share of the workers’ pay. As a result, to avoid losing a portion of their earnings, workers frequently deliberately switch their clients onto WhatsApp. “It’s normal for cleaners to tell their clients that this platform takes 15 to 20% of my salary, but if you schedule through WhatsApp and pay me by bank transfer, I’ll give you a lower price,” Grohmann explained.
Bruno Torres, an online seller of children’s clothing, claimed he lost roughly R$3,000 (US$500) during the interruption. Torres explained, “We needed to promote our new items and speak to our clients who were wondering whether we had any new outfits.” “A single phone number was being used by a large number of clients.”
“WE REALLY DEPEND ON THIS SERVICE TO BE ABLE TO WORK IN OUR DAY TO DAY LIFE”
WhatsApp is a free communication tool for Torres that allows him to communicate with multiple clients at once, enhancing his profit. “My sales would drop if I didn’t have WhatsApp,” Torres remarked. “It would also have an effect on my mental health.”
WhatsApp commerce also includes one-time sales of homemade goods and a wide spectrum of work that is difficult to categorize. The Information and Communication Nucleus of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (NIC) discovered that 30% of internet users who worked during the epidemic sold items or services using messaging apps in a research report regarding the pandemic’s effects on work.
“People discover methods to sell their wares,” Grohmann continued. “We call this viraço in Brazil when you manage to subsist by selling stuff, be it cakes or clothes or whatever.” “This is a means of survival for the working class, and they are becoming increasingly reliant on WhatsApp for this.”
Even protected employees, according to Grohmann, use the app to interact during the day, and the voice option is especially useful for casual workers who cannot read or write well.
“Audio notes are especially important in Brazil because of the high percentage of illiteracy,” Grohmann explained. “We also have a strong oral tradition.” As a result, the use of audio notes is extremely essential for Brazilians, and it connects with the culture of informal work and who performs that work. Instead of writing it down, I’ve known people who give me voice notes stating ‘OK.'”
According to Grohmann, WhatsApp has also allowed workers to organize against precarity, demonstrating how workers may negotiate and exploit privatized channels of communication to their benefit. “In Brazil, delivery app workers began organizing using WhatsApp, in group chats [made for coordinating strikes],” he explained.
Workers who had their livelihoods disrupted scrambled to make up for lost time and money once WhatsApp was restored. There’s no assurance there won’t be another interruption, but most migrant workers rely on the free, dynamic service to make ends meet. “We rely on this service to be able to function in our daily lives,” Torres explained.
Changing platforms isn’t really a viable option. In Brazil, WhatsApp is nearly an unavoidable part of daily life. Workers would not switch to other communication platforms, according to Grohmann, because the majority of Brazilians use WhatsApp. “When WhatsApp was down, a few people opened accounts on Telegram,” he said, “but very few people in Brazil utilize other communication platforms than WhatsApp.” “Changing platforms will not result in greater client communication.”