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Thursday, January 21, 2021

WhatsApp privacy policy update: Don’t fall for these false claims

WhatsApp's new privacy policy has caused some concern among users. but don't believe all that is being circulated about the messaging app.

Written by Chetan Nayak | Mumbai | Updated: January 12, 2021 10:15:33 am
Asked if the government has sought clarification on the matter, Cathcart said: "We remain available to answer any questions and to explain our continued commitment to the privacy and security of users across India."

WhatsApp is in the middle of a storm after its new privacy policy update, which suggests further data sharing with its parent company Facebook. Users have to accept the terms and service of this new policy by February 8, 2021, or delete their accounts. This change in privacy policy has also sparked an exodus of sorts to apps like Signal and Telegram.

The new policy update,  by talking about data sharing with Facebook but without giving the details users need, has also given rise to a lot of false information. Ironically, WhatsApp itself is the main vector for disseminating most of these falsehoods.

While the new privacy policy for WhatsApp does cause some concern, especially with regard to Facebook and data sharing, one should not believe everything being circulated. Of course, one is free to still give WhatsApp for another app if not comfortable with the policy, but some of the fake information around it needs to be debunked.

Here’s a look at some of the misinformation around WhatsApp that you should not believe.

Misinformation 1: Does WhatsApp now share my messages with Facebook?

Answer: No.

Explanation: The new policy does not change how WhatsApp deals with personal chats, which will continue to remain end-to-end encrypted. This means no third-party can still read these chats. “We do not retain your messages in the ordinary course of providing our Services to you. Instead, your messages are stored on your device and not typically stored on our servers. Once your messages are delivered, they are deleted from our servers,” adds the WhatsApp policy.

Read more: WhatsApp clarifies on privacy policy again: We don’t share messages with Facebook

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart also wrote a thread on Twitter trying to clear the air around this. “With end-to-end encryption, we cannot see your private chats or calls and neither can Facebook. We’re committed to this technology and committed to defending it globally.” Remember WhatsApp is using the same end-to-end encryption protocol as Signal, the app that many are now turning towards.

Read more: Facebook can’t access encrypted private chats: WhatsApp head on new privacy policy

Misinformation 2: Does WhatsApp share my location with Facebook?

Answer: Only approximate location information.

Explanation: The locations of WhatsApp users are again, protected between the sender and the receiver. So, if you share your live location with a friend, that information is not transmitted to Facebook. However, WhatsApp does gather approximate location data which is given away by your phone number and IP address. Note that this is something the app can share with Facebook.

The content you share with your friends, family and colleagues over WhatsApp in the form of pictures, videos and audio files are a part of your chat history and remain end-to-end encrypted.

Misinformation 3: Does WhatsApp now own the content, media files that I’ve shared on the app?

Answer: No.

Explanation: The content you share with your friends, family and colleagues over WhatsApp in the form of pictures, videos and audio files are a part of your chat history and remain end-to-end encrypted, just like your text messages.

While sending the same, WhatsApp only stores the media temporarily. Once the image/video/audio file has reached the receiver, it should remain only on the two devices and not on WhatsApp’s servers. ”When a user forwards media within a message, we store that media temporarily in encrypted form on our servers to aid in more efficient delivery of additional forwards,” states the new policy.

Misinformation 4: Will WhatsApp show ads?

Answer: Not at the moment.

Explanation: WhatsApp will continue to be an ad-free messaging service. However, there is the possibility of ads coming to the platform sometime in the future. “We still do not allow third-party banner ads on our Services. We have no intention to introduce them, but if we ever do, we will update this Privacy Policy,” states the new policy. It was reported in the past that WhatsApp would add advertisements in the Stories/Status feature, but that plan has been shelved for now. It looks like WhatsApp is focusing on connecting users with businesses in order to explore monetisation plans.

Read more: WhatsApp privacy update: Signal to Telegram, a detailed look at the best alternatives

Misinformation 5: Will WhatsApp record and track my audio/video calls?

Answer: No.

Explanation: WhatsApp doesn’t record, or listen to audio and video calls made via the platform. The data of these voice and video calls remain end-to-end encrypted, just like text messages and media. This means that the calls stay between the parties involved in the call and nobody else, including WhatsApp.

Misinformation 6: Is WhatsApp storing my messages?

Answer: No. You can choose to do a backup with third-parties like Google Drive or Apple iCloud. WhatsApp does not store these messages.

Explanation: As we mentioned above, WhatsApp will not store your text messages and other media files, even on its own servers. They are only stored offline on your own device. That is why when you install WhatsApp on a new phone, your chat history is not magically synced like Instagram or Facebook Messenger.

However, if you do choose to backup your WhatsApp chats on Drive or iCloud, then they are in the hands of a third-party company like Google or Apple. Even then it is encrypted data. If you really doubt the safety of your messages, then perhaps the best way to ensure it would be to not back up the data at all.

Also read: Thinking of switching to Signal? Here’s a lowdown on the WhatsApp alternative

Should you still use WhatsApp?

With all the above myths cleared, WhatsApp’s big problem right now is the lack of trust with its parent company Facebook, which does not have a stellar record when it comes to privacy practices. WhatsApp users concerned about their privacy may still be driven away by the fact that the app has now mandated the acceptance of the new privacy terms. It is only in the European Union that WhatsApp is legally bound to not share its data with Facebook.

Also read: In Malayalam language

This leaves all current WhatsApp users two choices. The first is to either stick to the app and hope for India to implement new data protection laws so that data collected by WhatsApp or pretty much any other app is not misused or shared without permission. The second is to switch to another app, which is not owned by big tech companies, who are all facing scrutiny over their data collection practices.

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