The announcement that WhatsApp will be getting new rules – and forcing users to agree to them – has spread fear among the people who rely on the messaging app to stay in touch with friends and family.
WhatsApp has long prided itself on its commitment to security and privacy, with encrypted conversations and other important technologies integrated into the app.
But the new announcement has sparked fears of the exact opposite: that people’s information is not being kept secret but instead shared with Facebook.
But what is the truth over the changes, and how concerned should people be?
The event that kicked off the changes are WhatsApp’s new terms, and a requirement that users commit to them. Users are, in the last couple of days, being asked to assent to those changes – for now they can choose to leave it until later, but eventually users will no longer be able to keep using the app unless they assent to the new rules.
Those new rules include a summary of how WhatsApp will share information with Facebook, and how any shared information might be used.
“We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.”
It is that summary that has led to the concerns, and fears that people’s WhatsApp data might not be protected.
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One thing to note is that the “information” collected by WhatsApp is not chats, since those are encrypted and therefore can’t be seen by the company even if it wanted to. Rather, the information is personal data such as the phone number of users and their contacts, profile names and pictures, and diagnostic data.
As such, there is no concern – at least yet – that private WhatsApp conversations will be harvested to use for ads or other purposes by Facebook, for instance.
What’s more, WhatsApp insists that European users will not see any changes to the use of their data, even if they agree to the terms.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, it is still the case that WhatsApp does not share European region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or advertisements.”
WhatsApp’s director of public policy in Europe, Middle East and Africa shared a Twitter thread making much the same argument. “It remains the case that WhatsApp does not share European Region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or ads,” she wrote.
The really significant recent update is that WhatsApp has added new features to allow people to communicate with businesses – and those businesses could be hosted by Facebook. When speaking to those contacts, messages might be stored and managed by Facebook, and so those conversations could be shared with the company more generally.
Users should be informed if that happens, however. When speaking to a business who has decided to have its messages managed by Facebook, a message should appear – and users should stop talking to them if they would prefer that information is not shared.