The impact of WhatsApp privacy policy changes

One of the most popular social messaging platforms, WhatsApp, has recently updated its privacy policy in a surprising move. More than 2 billion users worldwide are receiving the new and revised policy via a pop-up alert. The new privacy policy of WhatsApp has stirred a hornet’s nest as there is a considerable debate about the intentions of Facebook regarding user privacy. WhatsApp users are flocking to rival apps like Signal and Telegram in search of a more privacy-focused alternative to WhatsApp.

The impact of Whatsapp privacy policy changes (Whatsapp privacy policy)

Later, WhatsApp’s management came into damage-control mode and took it to Twitter to clarify the doubts regarding the updated privacy policy. Despite WhatsApp’s assurance that the new policy won’t affect its users’ private chats and calls, people are still wary of the new privacy policy. In this article, we shall deconstruct the updated privacy policy of WhatsApp.

The initial promise of continued privacy

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, the management of Facebook promised that user privacy would be their top priority. Although WhatsApp shared the user data with Facebook, the users could exercise their opt-out option anytime and stop the data sharing. The new privacy policy of WhatsApp will remove this opt-out option, and those users who disagree with the new policy will have to leave WhatsApp. The new policy is a complete U-turn from WhatsApp’s earlier respect privacy policy, which included steps like end-to-end encryption across various chats.

New policy

Under the new privacy policy, the users needed to give WhatsApp explicit consent to share the data that it collects about them by Feb 8th which has now been extended to May 15th failing to which will result in loosing access to their WhatsApp accounts. The data that WhatsApp collects will be shared with the broader network of Facebook, which includes Instagram and Facebook messenger, irrespective of whether the user has accounts or profiles on these networks or not.

Earlier data sharing with Facebook was optional, but now it isn’t. The terms clearly state that “WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with the other Facebook companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them to help operate and market particular services”.

Concern

Experts say that the new privacy policy deepens the integration between Facebook and WhatsApp. From a business perspective, it makes sense as the recent move helps Facebook monetize WhatsApp.

The management of WhatsApp has clearly said that the updated privacy policy won’t affect the communication of users with other users. The policy would only affect the communication of users with business accounts. While users won’t see a major effect of the updated WhatsApp privacy policy immediately, it still does not allay the concerns of privacy-conscious netizens. The dubious record of Facebook on data privacy is a matter of concern for most users.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has put the spotlight on privacy breaches and security vulnerabilities in Facebook. WhatsApp might still encrypt the text conversations, but other unencrypted data points might prove to be problematic in the future. Hence the major concern isn’t what WhatsApp is going to see now, but what it would be able to see with future updates.

WhatsApp’s response

The company clarified in a post on Twitter that neither WhatsApp nor any of the entities associated with Facebook can access the users’ conversations. Thus, the app’s essential policy- the end-to-end encrypted calls and chats are still there, and WhatsApp does not know what users are saying to each other. WhatsApp has clearly stated that it won’t share contacts with Facebook.

WhatsApp Protects and Secures Your Private Massages

WhatsApp says it will not share contacts with Facebook, nor can WhatsApp or Facebook see users’ shared location. Messages can still be set to disappear, and groups remain private, the company clarified on Twitter recently.

The type of information that WhatsApp will now be able to share is the main difference.

According to the updated policy, other information that WhatsApp will share with Facebook includes the user’s browser information, language, time zone, IP address, and mobile network.

Data related to the phone’s battery level, signal strength, and connection information such as the internet service provider’s name will also be shared.

What is the impact of WhatsApp privacy policy changes for the users?

WhatsApp has clearly said that the new policy won’t affect the user’s private communication. The changes will affect only the user’s communication with businesses. WhatsApp today has more than 50 million business accounts, and the new policy gives these business accounts access to invaluable user data.

WhatsApp now has access to all the conversations that the user has with the third-party service providers. WhatsApp can now parse through the chat logs to see what the users are buying, the transaction value, and which products the users buy more frequently. It is widely believed that this information will then be used to create targeted Facebook ads.

WhatsApp has clarified that those businesses that operate on the WhatsApp platform can now utilize the infrastructure of Facebook to manage their chats with their consumers. Although using the Facebook infrastructure or sharing the data with Facebook entirely depends upon the businesses. The company has said that it will clearly label conversations with companies that use Facebook’s hosting infrastructure.

The policy isn’t the same around the world.

Due to the strict privacy protection laws implemented by the European Union, unlike the rest of the world, the European citizens won’t have to cope with WhatsApp’s same data-sharing changes. In a statement, Facebook said that there would be no changes for the European region, including the EU and the post-Brexit UK.

This different Facebook policy for the European Union is seen as a victory for the EU privacy policy activists who fought for stricter privacy laws. The updated privacy policy for Canada and the USA WhatsApp clearly states that it would allow the users to connect their WhatsApp account with their Facebook pay accounts.

Another exciting clause that the new WhatsApp privacy policy has is that it binds the users with a “binding arbitration provision”. A binding arbitration provision means that the users agree to resolve any disputes with the app without a judge or jury.

What can the users do?

Many argue that the updated WhatsApp privacy policy is not that bad as it does not change anything for private conversations. On the other hand, the move does suggest that Facebook is now looking for more ways to extract more user data from WhatsApp to support its business of targeted ads.

WhatsApp has delayed the implementation of the new privacy policy till May 15th. This delay gives users who are concerned about their privacy some extra time to think. The status is that if the users are not satisfied with the privacy policy even after the said period, they will have to stop using WhatsApp.

Move to Signal or Telegram?

Within 72 hours of WhatsApp’s updated policy announcement, Signal received 25 million new users, and Telegram crossed the 500 million mark.

Signal is a secure messaging platform that has people like Elon Musk vouching for it. Unlike WhatsApp, Signal does not collect any user data at all. Signal, like WhatsApp, offers end-to-end encryption for data and calls.

Telegram is another popular messaging app that has benefited from WhatsApp’s new privacy policy announcement. Telegram stores data like photos, documents, videos, etc., on its servers. Telegram allows the users a feature known as “secret chats,” which uses end-to-end encryption.

Wrapping up

Messaging app users need to take a balanced approach regarding the updated privacy policy of WhatsApp. The users need to take their time, assess their choices, and try other alternatives before switching messaging platforms; also, they will have to reassess the benefits and the perceived risks associated with social messaging. If the perceived risks outweigh the perceived benefits, it’s best to leave that messaging platform and join another.

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Prismetric is an ISO 9001:2015 certified Mobile App Development company based in India and USA. https://www.prismetric.com

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Prismetric

Prismetric is an ISO 9001:2015 certified Mobile App Development company based in India and USA. https://www.prismetric.com