Are WhatsApp’s new privacy settings worth outraging over? Here’s a simple explanation

What you need to know about WhatsApp’s new privacy terms everyone is talking, and outraging about.
Are WhatsApp’s new privacy settings worth outraging over? Here’s a simple explanation
Are WhatsApp’s new privacy settings worth outraging over? Here’s a simple explanation
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WhatsApp’s recent announcement that it would be share user data with parent company Facebook, has got many of its 1 billion users all riled up.

Users have raised concerns over infringement of privacy, and many are indignant about WhatsApp going back on its word to protect user data, when it was bought by Facebook in 2014 for $21.8 billion.

However, WhatsApp isn’t the first application that has proposed to share users’ information and monetize it, so what’s all the fuss about?

Here’s a low-down on the whole thing.

The new terms

WhatsApp will start sharing information such as contact lists, phone numbers and status messages with its parent company Facebook.

In its official blog on August 25, WhatsApp said it is doing this to “to test ways for people to communicate with businesses.” What this means is that Facebook is going to be able to send you more targeted and “relevant” advertisements and friend suggestions.

The blog elaborates: “By coordinating more with Facebook, we'll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp. And by connecting your phone number with Facebook's systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them.”

WhatsApp alos said it would test being able to inform you about things such as flight schedule changes and bank transactions, the notifications for which are usually received through SMS and phone calls.

However, WhatsApp assured users that despite these changes, conversations and pictures will remain secure with end-to-end encryption, that is, be inaccessible to any third party including Facebook; and that Facebook would not display your mobile number on its platform unless users themselves did so.


Hypocrisy, for starters. When Facebook bought the messenger service, WhatsApp had said that privacy of users’ data would be paramount.

But even before that, WhatsApp had taken a stance against advertising. “These days companies know literally everything about you, your friends, your interests, and they use it all to sell ads. When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn't just another ad clearinghouse,” it said in a June 2012 blog post titled “Why we don’t sell ads?

WhatsApp said it saw advertising as an insult to the user’s intelligence and a disruption to his/her train of thought. “Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product,” it had said.

Marc Rotenberg, the executive director at Washington’s Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) told Dan Tynan of The Guardian that Facebook was breaching the Federal Trade Commission contract it had signed when it acquired WhatsApp.

The contract mandated that users’ consent be obtained before putting into effect terms which affected their privacy. The article also pointed out that Facebook has a history of changing its policies without informing users in advance.

What is Facebook going to do with this information?

Apart from targeted advertisements and friend suggestions, this Big Story report explains how a Facebook program called “Custom Audiences” works. This program matches numbers and contact information uploaded by businesses to people on its platform and shows them customised ads.

However, Facebook might not have everyone’s current number through this, because businesses often source customer numbers from warranty cards and like. WhatsApp meanwhile, requires you to have a current number. If WhatsApp supplies information to Facebook, the latter will have access to the numbers people currently use giving it a chance to access dynamic information.

Can you opt out?

Technically yes. WhatsApp has allowed users who have accepted the new terms, 30 days to opt out of sharing data with Facebook by unchecking an option called ‘Share my account info’ in Account settings. However, once you opt out, this is irreversible. You can find out how to do that here.

However, the Facebook family of companies, which includes the likes of Instagram, will still receive and use the information you about you anyway, which, as this article points out, will still allow Facebook to access information like usage data, even though it may prevent targeted advertising.  

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