WhatsApp by Facebook stock photo 7

It was long expected that Facebook’s $16 billion investment in WhatsApp would lead to a monetization strategy. Judging by the latest WhatsApp privacy policy controversy, it looks like we’re finally headed in that direction.

WhatsApp announced changes to its privacy policy in January 2021 that ignited a data security and privacy conversation. As a result, many users are now switching to more private messaging apps like Signal and Telegram. In fact, downloads for Signal, the privacy-first messenger, jumped 4,200% week-on-week, with the app clocking 7.5 million installs globally in the first week of January 2021.

Since the announcement, WhatsApp has delayed implementing the policy twice. While the policy rollout was initially delayed to May 15, the company recently announced that the implementation will be staggered. Fresh sign-ups and anyone who has already accepted the policy will now be sharing limited data with Facebook. Other users will, however, be prompted to accept the policy.

This prompt will become a persistent prompt after a few weeks of use, at which point the app will only allow incoming video and audio calls. Finally, if the user still does not accept the policy, the app will stop working altogether after a few weeks. However, WhatsApp hasn’t given a clear definition of the time period in question.

All this to say that WhatsApp has had to get into serious damage control mode to stem the tide of users jumping ship. At the time of the initial announcement, WhatsApp took to Twitter to debunk rumors and clarify exactly what was being shared with Facebook. In India, where WhatsApp has over 340 million users, the app took to front-page newspaper advertisements to explain exactly what data is being shared.

Which brings us to the question, exactly what data is being shared between WhatsApp and Facebook under the former’s new policy? Moreover, is there anything to be concerned about for the average Joe? Let’s take a look at the state of WhatsApp privacy and what data is collects on its users.

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What data will WhatsApp collect on you and share with Facebook?

whatsapp business communication
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

WhatsApp has come out and cleared the air around its updated privacy policy. The policy, which was originally intended to come into effect starting February 8, 2021, before a three-month delay was announced, applies only to business communication. The changes apply only if you opt to communicate with a business that integrates with WhatsApp.

Here is all the data that will now be shared when communicating with any of the 50 million business accounts on the platform:

  • Phone number
  • Device ID
  • Location
  • Transaction data
  • Product interaction
  • User identifiers

Presumably, most of this information will be used for better ad targeting. By parsing your transaction data and your location, Facebook can optimize advertisements for your interests. We’ve already seen this happen between Facebook and Instagram.

Now, with WhatsApp, the company should have even more granular data on one-to-one communication between you and a business. As an end-user, you should expect to see better advertisements across Facebook’s social platforms. The shared data will also allow a business to send you payment confirmations and transaction data over the messaging platform.

These data-sharing policies only apply to businesses that opt to use Facebook’s business hosting solutions. The company claims that conversations with such businesses will be clearly marked out with a label.

What data won’t be collected by WhatsApp?

WhatsApp encrypted private chat
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Contrary to rumors, WhatsApp is not snooping on your private conversations. Your private one-to-one chats and, for that matter, even group chats are all end-to-end encrypted. None of this data can be looked into by WhatsApp nor is it shared with Facebook. This won’t change when the updated privacy policy comes into effect. WhatsApp does not have access to any of the following data identifiers:

  • Private chats
  • Private phone calls
  • Message or call logs
  • Contact information
  • Shared location
  • WhatsApp group information

The updated privacy policy makes it clear that changes to data sharing with Facebook only apply to business communications. WhatsApp further addressed its updated privacy policy and what is and isn’t shared in a blog post which you can read here.

Can I opt-out of the WhatsApp privacy policy?

Simply put, no. If you have still not accepted the notification for the updated terms and conditions and you live outside European Union or the UK, the updated policy can be deferred for a few weeks. Pushing past May 15, users will be gradually cut off from the service. At first, usage will be restricted to just incoming calls. However, eventually, even that will be shut down.

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That said, there is no change to policies around private communication. None of the changes apply to users unless they use the app for chatting with a business entity.

What do you think about the updated WhatsApp privacy policy?

WhatsApp use in hand
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

There’s no denying the fact that WhatsApp is deeply ingrained into everyday conversations in major markets like Europe and India. In fact, India alone contributes 340 million users to WhatsApp’s global two billion user base. However, will the updated policy be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Are you looking at switching over to more secure, privacy focused platforms? Let us know below.