The WhatsApp privacy confusion – what is actually going on and should you continue to use the app?
Recently, WhatsApp’s 2 billion users were faced with an ultimatum which came in the form of a policy update notification on the app. The ultimatum appeared to be for users to either share their data with WhatsApp’s parent company, social media giant Facebook, or delete the app. Users were given a deadline of 8th February 2021 to decide.
The ultimatum triggered an exodus of users, who all sought shelter with what they argued to be more private messaging apps such as Signal or Telegram.
However, at the end of last week, WhatsApp announced that it would be extending the deadline to either accept or decline its updated terms and conditions until the 15th May 2021.
The primary reason for the extension appears to be for WhatsApp to clear up the confusion and miscommunication around the update notification.
Many users had concerns their messages would no longer remain encrypted and that Facebook would have unlimited access to all the personal content shared via WhatsApp. Reports suggested the updated terms and conditions would allow WhatsApp to share much more data than before (such as your location, device identifiers, contacts lists, usage data and purchases) with Facebook and other Facebook-owned businesses like Messenger and Instagram.
WhatsApp have since come out to say that the update does not extend their ability to share data with Facebook, and in fact it appears that many users’ data-sharing fears were already fully being realised by WhatsApp since its data-sharing policy first came out in 2016.
This time, WhatsApp says its update is largely aimed at giving users new options for interacting with businesses (WhatsApp appear to have plans to introduce a payment system within the app so users can purchase from businesses), a practice which is very usual on other messaging apps such as the Chinese messaging app WeChat. WhatsApp have made it explicitly clear that person to person content will continue to be encrypted.
WhatsApp have confirmed “It remains the case that WhatsApp does not share European Region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or ads.”
This means that UK and European WhatsApp users can relax somewhat, in the knowledge that there are no changes to how data is shared in the policy updates that apply to them.