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New privacy policy: Should you worry about WhatsApp’s new info-sharing with Facebook?

WhatsApp, the world’s most popular instant messaging service with over 1 billion users, now comes with deeper Facebook integration. What does the new policy mean for regular users? Will the app now have ads?

Written by Shruti Dhapola |
August 30, 2016 1:11:48 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 says no messages or photos will be shared with Facebook, but they will “coordinate” more with Facebook and its group of companies.

What does Facebook integration mean?

At the time Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014 for nearly $ 19 billion, co-founder Jan Koum insisted WhatsApp would remain true to its mission, which was to respect user privacy, and not collect user data.

“We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the Internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that… It has the effect of scaring people into thinking we’re suddenly collecting all kinds of new data… our future partnership with Facebook will not compromise the vision that brought us to this point,” Koum wrote.

But the new privacy policy states plainly that there will be data-sharing with Facebook. WhatsApp says no messages or photos will be shared with Facebook, but they will “coordinate” more with Facebook and its group of companies.

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The reasoning: To help improve ad experience on Facebook and its products, to more accurately count unique users, and to fight spam and abuse. Exactly how Facebook ads will improve with WhatsApp information is left unclear.

There is more. Once you have accepted WhatsApps’s updated 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,” the new terms of service say. The shared information will include the device used, online status, usage and log information. WhatsApp carefully points out in the FAQ that it won’t share any information “onto” Facebook or other Facebook apps, and that it won’t force a user who doesn’t have a Facebook account to open one.

Watch our video on WhatsApp’s policy change

Can you opt out of this Facebook info-sharing?

Technically yes. Users have 30 days after they accept the new terms of service to not allow Facebook sharing. There is an option in the Account tab of WhatsApp Settings to uncheck Sharing Info with Facebook. Once you choose not to share information with Facebook, you won’t be able to change this setting in the future. Interestingly, WhatsApp says, “Your chats and phone number will not be shared on to Facebook regardless of this setting.” “On to” is the operative part here — it means that your number won’t be added on to Facebook, but information sharing will happen nonetheless.

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

If you tap on ‘Learn More’, just below this setting, it tells you what happens when you choose not to share information. “The Facebook family of companies will still receive and use this information for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.”

So no matter what setting you choose, it seems Facebook is still getting some information from WhatsApp.

So are ads finally coming to WhatsApp?

Not ads, but services like banks, e-commerce websites, airline services are coming to WhatsApp and this was indicated earlier as well. WhatsApp says it will start testing these services soon, and the text messages you get from your bank or about your flight information might soon come on WhatsApp, as it is cheaper that way.

The new privacy policy says, “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.”

The last bit is interesting because WhatsApp says it won’t be serving ads to users, but don’t be surprised if marketing offers turn up from these services on the app. For WhatsApp, services are a way of generating revenue without resorting to outright ads. The world’s biggest message app wants to be indispensable to users by integrating services.

What else should you worry about?

For the first time, WhatsApp is also looking at copyrighted content, and now wants to help people, organisations “protect their intellectual property rights”. It is not clear how this will apply to, say, video clips or songs people might share on the app, because the app is technically end-to-end encrypted, and says it doesn’t read a user’s messages.

But infringement could also include profile pictures, profile name, etc., so it might help in cases where people’s profile photos are stolen to create another WhatsApp account.

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