WhatsApp Affirms User Privacy Following Backlash Over Data Sharing With Facebook

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Following backlash after changing its terms and privacy policy to consolidate a significant amount of data sharing with Facebook, WhatsApp is now assuring users about the privacy measures built into its app.

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Last week, WhatsApp began informing users of updates to the app’s terms of service and privacy policy. The updated agreements, which users must consent to in order to continue using WhatsApp, explicitly give parent company Facebook access to a large amount of user data. While WhatsApp has shared some user data with Facebook for years, this update consolidates data sharing for all users, including those that chose to opt-out of data sharing with Facebook in the past.

The updated terms help WhatsApp to integrate more closely into Facebook’s family of products, as it aims to provide a more coherent experience to users across services, and enables the company to use gathered information on all users to display targeted ads. The widely-reported change was met with an outcry of displeasure on social media, leading to a rush to download rival messaging app Signal, and has even sparked an antitrust investigation in Turkey.

Via posts on social media, WhatsApp is now assuring users that “Our privacy policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family.” It has also added to its FAQ to address users’ privacy concerns relating to data sharing with Facebook.

The FAQ explains that WhatsApp and Facebook cannot see a user’s private messages or hear their calls. Logs of who users are messaging and calling are not retained and shared location, contact information, and group membership is kept private.

WhatsApp suggests that the majority of data sharing with Facebook is derived from communicating with businesses that use hosting services from Facebook or after using Facebook-branded commerce services such as Shops. Either may result in targeted ads being shown to users.

However, it is noticeable that WhatsApp has mostly focused on what data is not shared with Facebook, rather than what is. The FAQ update does not acknowledge the fact, as stated under the updated privacy policy, that WhatsApp shares device and interaction information, IP address, and unspecified “other information” with Facebook.

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