The updated policy terms were first announced via an in-app notification to users by WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, asking them to agree to the new terms by February 8 or lose access to their accounts. As both users and privacy activists raised the alarm, WhatsApp clarified that the changes were necessary to help businesses through WhatsApp Business, which was launched by the company in 2018 to facilitate communication between businesses and customers.
“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” WhatsApp said in a blog update on Friday.
The Facebook factor
The updated policy terms informed users that WhatApp receives information from, and shares information with, the Facebook family of companies. These changes were focused on introducing new options for businesses using WhatsApp Business.
Limited information from WhatsApp is already shared with Facebook. But the changes to WhatsApp’s terms of service to enable that occurred in 2016, and the terms have not been substantially updated since.
A key issue raised by privacy experts with WhatsApp updating its policies was that the messaging platform rolled out separate privacy and data sharing policies for Europe and India. Because of this, the demand for a prompt chimplementation of the personal data protection law in India has been renewed. India’s data protection Bill — the foundations of which were laid by a committee which gave a report back in 2018 — is yet to be made into a law. It is currently under consideration by a parliamentary committee.
As of July 2020, the company had more than 50 million WhatsApp Business users globally, of which over 15 million used the service in India every month. In April last year, when Facebook announced a $5.7 billion investment in Reliance Industries’ Jio Platforms, WhatsApp and Reliance Retail also entered a commercial partnership agreement to support small businesses on e-commerce platform JioMart using the messaging platform.
WhatsApp’s announcement on January 4, in which it informed users of its new policy, started with ‘Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA’. This phrase has earlier been used verbatim by the messaging platform’s co-founder Jan Koum, who had left the company over differences in the way user data was being used.
“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. 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,” Koum had written after Facebook’s $16 billion buyout of the WhatsApp.
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