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What’s new in WhatsApp’s privacy update?

What’s new in WhatsApp’s privacy update?

In the wake of users moving to Signal and Telegram, here are some tweaks on the messaging platform you need to know about

Anand Prakash

From February 8 onwards, people using the instant messaging application WhatsApp will have to accept its latest privacy policy guidelines in order to continue using the platform. While the older policy stated “respect for your privacy is encoded into our DNA”, there is no such mention in the Facebook-owned entity’s latest privacy guidelines. However, WhatsApp remains end-to-end encrypted-which means that it cannot see your messages or share them with anyone. But with three primary updates, there will be further integration of WhatsApp and Facebook’s other products.

Srinivas Kodali
Srinivas Kodali

From now on, when users rely on “third-party services or other Facebook Company Products that are integrated with our Services, those third-party services may receive information about what you or others share with them.” At the same time, the latest privacy policy guidelines also state that when someone is using “third-party services or other Facebook Company Products, their own terms and privacy policies will govern your use of those services and products.” When it comes to hardware data, WhatsApp will collect “battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers (including identifiers unique to Facebook Company Products associated with the same device or account)”. Lastly, deleting your WhatsApp account doesn’t necessarily mean that your data has also been deleted. “When you delete your account, it does not affect your information related to the groups you created or the information other users have relating to you, such as their copy of the messages you sent them,” states the new January 2021 privacy policy.

“They are trying to integrate WhatsApp systems-which they claimed were end-to-end encrypted-with Facebook systems that are not end-to-end encrypted,” said independent data researcher Srinivas Kodali. “Basically, the latest privacy policy guidelines state that your data will be shared with Facebook, which was not the case previously. The last major update change happened in 2016; at the time, WhatsApp said that it would be sharing some of its users’ data with Facebook, but users could opt out of it. However, this opting out provision is gone now and what they are saying is that they are compulsorily going to share everyone’s data with Facebook.”

According to Kodali, this change from optional to compulsory is taking place because WhatsApp’s infrastructure is being integrated with Facebook’s infrastructure. “Facebook essentially claims this is being done only so that businesses can operate better over WhatsApp,” he said. “WhatsApp wants to enter the e-commerce business in India and other countries…and in order to do so, they really need to understand people better. For example, if Facebook knows I am a rich person, then companies using Facebook can start selling their products much better towards me…which is why this whole data sharing needs to happen for Facebook to make some money out of WhatsApp. Even though Facebook bought WhatsApp, the latter doesn’t make any money for them [yet]. WhatsApp has a lot of activity on it because it is end-to-end encrypted, but there isn’t much data going to Facebook, which is why they cannot really make a profit out of it-not to the extent that they have made out of Instagram and Facebook itself. On Instagram, you have ads and e-commerce transactions and data is shared with Facebook as well. This doesn’t really happen on WhatsApp-but is now going to start.”

Lastly, Kodali claims that “people are really concerned” about the fact that their data will be shared with Facebook. “On some of the WhatsApp groups that I am a part of, people have already started migrating over to Signal and Telegram. This trend has started in the US since Friday night because Elon Musk tweeted asking people to move to Signal…whose servers are being bombarded with new users.”

Anand Prakash, CEO, AppSecure Security, said: “As of now, we don’t know what Facebook is going to do with this data. But in the future, if your contacts are shared from WhatsApp to Facebook, then it may happen that Facebook shows you a friend/contact suggestion of someone who is your WhatsApp contact.”

According to Prakash, this data sharing from WhatsApp to Facebook sets a “dangerous precedent” because “the intention for using this data is not out in the open yet.” He said: “If your WhatsApp contacts also start getting transferred to Facebook and the latter starts showing it and using it for marketing purposes...then it is a risk.”

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