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WhatsApp’s privacy policy is bigger than just sharing info with Facebook

WhatsApp's privacy policy has changed, and users of the app need to take careful note. Here's why.

Written by Shruti Dhapola |
Updated: August 29, 2016 10:08:10 am
WhatsApp Privacy Policy, WhatsApp policy change, WhatsApp privacy, WhatsApp, WhatsApp Facebook, Facebook WhatsApp info sharing, WhatsApp sharing Facebook number, WhatsApp Facebook numbers, WhatsApp policy, technology, technology news WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy has changed and it looks like the app is set for a new future. (Source: AP)

WhatsApp’s privacy policy has changed, a first in four years and it hints the future is going to be very different for the world’s most popular messaging app. The change that has everyone talking is the deeper integration with Facebook, which is not surprising given the social media giant owns the app.

On the Facebook integration, one thing is clear: There will be some information sharing, although WhatsApp promises no messages or photos will be shared with Facebook. This is what WhatsApp says on the info-sharing with Facebook:

We plan to share some information with Facebook and the Facebook family of companies that will allow us to coordinate more, such as to fight spam and abuse, and improve experiences across our services and those of Facebook and the Facebook family. For example, once you have accepted our updated Terms and Privacy Policy, we will share some of your account information with Facebook and the Facebook family of companies, like the phone number you verified when you registered with WhatsApp, as well as the last time you used our service.

This information includes the device used, online status, usage and log information. WhatsApp carefully points out in the FAQ it won’t share any information ‘onto’ Facebook or other Facebook apps, but yes data-sharing will happen. The reasoning: To help improve ad experiences, to more accurately count unique users and fight spam and abuse. Exactly how Facebook ads will improve with WhatsApp information is left unclear, but there is more.

WhatsApp is also getting ready to welcome services such as banks, airlines on the app, an idea that has been discussed earlier as well. WhatsApp’s latest blog says this: These services are coming soon, and they will start testing it on the app. For WhatsApp, which has never actually made any money, and is still not serving ads, this is one way of generating revenue.

Watch our video on WhatsApp’s policy change

And yes it could make the app even more potent in its fight against SMS and other players, especially an app like Telegram. WhatsApp plans to be even more indispensable to the user by integrating services, rather than an app where people keep sharing ‘good morning messages’.

Also read: WhatsApp and Facebook to share information: Here’s how you can opt out

The privacy policy reads, “We will allow you and third parties, like businesses, to communicate with each other using WhatsApp, such as through order, transaction, and appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and marketing. For example, you may receive flight status information for upcoming travel, a receipt for something you purchased, or a notification when a delivery will be made. Messages you may receive containing marketing could include an offer for something that might interest you.

WhatsApp promises no spam, but the last bit in particular reads like advertising could be coming to the app, perhaps in a more subtle form. So yes, your bank or favourite e-commerce site might soon be interacting with you on WhatsApp, and don’t be surprised if they message about some cashback scheme or discount on your credit card. How well WhatsApp controls this kind of messaging will be watched closely. But it will mark a significant departure from how WhatsApp has been viewed, an app that was strictly about no ads.

Read more: Copyrighted material on WhatsApp could land you in trouble

Finally, WhatsApp is also looking at copyrighted content, and now wants to help people, organisations “ protect their intellectual property rights”. According to the privacy policy, if someone reports a copyright infringement, then WhatsApp could crackdown; infringement could include profile pictures, profile name, etc. Whether it will apply to video or movies, or music that people might be sharing on WhatsApp is not clear, because technically the app is end-to-end encrypted and the company says it doesn’t read or store a user’s message on its servers.

But in cases where people’s profile photos are stolen to create another WhatsApp account, this might be a lot more useful, and it makes sense given the 1 billion users now on the app.

Overall the privacy policy change was long due. It signals a reigning-in of WhatsApp, which has in some ways become its own wild, wild west. For Facebook which owns WhatsApp, revenue has always been a concern. And WhatsApp with its 1 billion users will now start taking that goal a lot more seriously.

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