What does WhatsApp’s new privacy policy mean for you?

What do new WhatsApp policies intend to do to your private data?

On January 8th, 2021, internet users woke up to an update to popular messaging service WhatsApp’s privacy policy. While an update by itself isn’t big news, this one got a lot of eyeballs because one clause in particular in the new privacy policy was causing a lot of consternation.

The big change that had got everyone up in arms was that WhatsApp, which is owned by internet giant Facebook, planned to share selected categories of user information with other Facebook Companies.

“As part of Facebook Companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, other Facebook Companies,” said WhatsApp, according to their new Privacy Policy. “WhatsApp currently shares certain categories of information with Facebook Companies. The information we share with the other Facebook Companies, includes your account registration information (such as your phone number), transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using our Services, mobile device information, your IP address, and may include other information identified in the Privacy Policy section entitled ‘Information We Collect’ or obtained upon notice to you or based on your consent.”

While this clause was by itself quite troubling, this wasn’t the end of the issue. The issue was that this was not a choice — users have time till February 8th, 2021 to accept this new clause. If they don’t accept this clause, then they won’t be able to use WhatsApp. The underlying message is simple – to use a Facebook product like WhatsApp or Instagram, a user has to be comfortable with some information on them being shared with their parent companies.

Before we move on, it’s important to state three major points that have arisen:

WhatsApp messages continue to enjoy end-to-end encryption

WhatsApp is very clear that the messages users send to each other are not among the information that is shared. The company categorically states that messages sent on the platform are end-to-end encrypted and that messages are not stored on company servers — undelivered messages are deleted after 30 days.

WhatsApp has responded to the controversy with a detailed blogpost

In a detailed blog post, WhatsApp also responded to the controversy by saying that the policy update did not affect the privacy of a user’s messages but only included changes related to messaging a business.

Media reports claim WhatsApp already shares data with Facebook since 2016

According to various media reports, WhatsApp already shares user data with Facebook since a previous privacy policy update in August 2016. According to these reports, users had the option to opt-out of this information sharing at that time. If they did not opt-out, then they gave their permission for WhatsApp to share information with Facebook.

So, how does this impact me? And should I do anything about it?

Should I switch to Signal/Telegram?

It depends. On the Internet, there was an immediate clamour with many netizens urging others to use alternatives to WhatsApp. Signal is the WhatsApp alternative that seems to have received the most high-profile endorsement with figures such as Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and India’s Anand Mahindra all tweeting in support of it. Telegram is also another alternative that has received popularity from netizens after WhatsApp’s new privacy policy update. While both of the platforms are more secure from a privacy perspective as compared to WhatsApp, Signal should be the choice for those most concerned about privacy as it collects virtually no user data and is owned by a non-profit organization committed to privacy.

What are my options?

However, as many will argue, migrating out of WhatsApp is easier said than done. According to an estimate in 2019, the app had 400 million users in India and has become omnipresent across the country. While there will be an initial rush of users to alternative apps, it would be safe to assume that a large majority of non-technical users would not care much about the privacy consequences and will continue to stick to WhatsApp.

In such a situation, you have two alternatives. You can choose to switch to another platform and delete WhatsApp. While you will have fewer privacy concerns, you may find it difficult to stay in touch with friends and family unless they all switch over to your messaging app of choice.

The other option is to continue with WhatsApp but being more vigilant with the data you share with it. If it is possible, get another number and use it solely for WhatsApp to ensure that the data collected from you is less. Be sparse about the data you share about yourself on all social media platforms but especially on platforms belonging to Facebook Companies.

Privacy will be one of the key issues in this era. The heartening thing about WhatsApp’s new policy update is the amount of noise it made — it shows people are now slowly waking up to the value of their data. Hopefully, Big Tech organizations will listen and ensure they provide more clarity about the data they collect, addressing all the chief privacy concerns.

Quickheal

Quickheal

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