WhatsApp’s new privacy policy allows data to be shared with Facebook, users have no means to opt out

WhatsApp users who are not interested in giving Facebook access to their personal data are told to get online or hit the road before February 8. A new data sharing policy is universalizing certain types of personal information among Facebook companies’ products: phone numbers. , transaction data, service-related information, information about how users interact with others (including businesses) when using these various services, information from mobile devices, IP addresses, and more. WhatsApp informed users of this change in the most recent update to its privacy policy, which did not provide any means to opt out of this new data sharing policy.

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New privacy policy puts pressure on WhatsApp users

Several days ago, WhatsApp users received an in-app notification of the new privacy policy. The update indicated that the new data exchange policy would consist of “more information about the WhatsApp service and how we process your data, how companies can use the services hosted on Facebook to store and manage their WhatsApp chats, [and] how we partner with Facebook to offer integrations into Facebook business products.

WhatsApp has been owned by Facebook since 2014. The Facebook family of companies also includes Instagram, Oculus VR, and Giphy, among others. Although a similar notification has not yet appeared on other platforms, the wording of the new privacy policy seems to indicate that there could now be data exchange between each and every one of these services.

While Facebook has had a variety of data privacy issues in recent years, WhatsApp has generally had a more positive reputation for its handling of user data than its parent company. It has end-to-end encryption since 2016 and previously allowed users to opt out of sharing personal data with Facebook’s ad tracking service. However, that option was allowed for a limited time only in 2016. A company spokesperson told PCMag that users who chose not to participate during that period years ago will not be bound by the new privacy policy (even if they accept the new terms), but at this time the option does not appear to be offered to users again. It is also unclear whether that original exclusion, which was limited to personalized advertising uses, would cover all possible data-sharing applications outlined in the new privacy policy.

Could the new data sharing policy lead users to competing services?

At the moment, you can still use a WhatsApp account without accepting the terms of the new privacy policy. However, as of February 8, users will have to agree to the terms of service or it would appear that the application will be blocked.

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, it initially assured users that the personal data of the two services would be kept completely separate. The company reversed the direction of that privacy policy in 2016 by sharing personalized advertising information, but gave existing WhatsApp users that short period of time to opt out. The messaging service hasn’t suffered for business since Facebook made this announcement, growing to two billion monthly active users in 2020 (from 1.5 billion in 2019) and maintaining its position as the world’s most popular messaging app for several years. However, the amount of data shared appears to be increasing, raising questions about the potential negative impact on the platform.

One would be an exodus of users to the competition. There are many alternatives, although none are as popular in North America; the only one that even comes close to competing in terms of active users is Facebook Messenger. However, this could create an opportunity for a competitor, something Elon Musk seems to feel with his recent promotion of the encrypted messaging app Signal. Musk specifically called out Facebook for privacy concerns, and his tweet was soon retweeted by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, prompting a massive surge of users who checked the previously somewhat obscure platform. Signal is the private property of the Signal Foundation; its encryption is used by WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, as well as Skype.

Another would be more fuel for antitrust investigations. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is weighing a possible case and is expected to announce a decision soon, and the Justice Department has an antitrust investigation underway that nearly every state attorney general has joined.

The new #datasharing policy is universalizing #personaldata among Facebook products. WhatsApp has informed users of this change in a privacy policy update. #respectdata

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Facebook has indicated that WhatsApp messages will remain encrypted end-to-end, so the company should not be scanning their content. However, you are looking to integrate WhatsApp with many of your other services and seem to want to use all your recorded and observable personal information and transaction data with those services as well. Although WhatsApp does not currently scan messages for advertising or data sharing purposes, it is believed that it relies on Facebook account information to help select personalized ads for WhatsApp users. It can also be based on a variety of other information that does not involve the actual messages sent and received: user location data, how much time they spend on the platform, the time of day the application is used, and the identities of the message recipients. (and its attached Facebook information) among other data points that determine which ads the user ends up seeing.


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