WhatsApp has released a new privacy policy which ALL users must accept or risk losing access to their account.  This new policy has far reaching impact for those who are careful on the privacy of their data.  Below is a comprehensive explanation of the policy and how it impacts all WhatsApp user.

When is WhatsApp changing?

All users have until the 8th February 2021 to accept the new terms.  Gradually all users are getting in-app notifications of the terms and policies update.  You will have to accept these terms and policies by the 8th Feb to avoid potentially losing access to your WhatsApp account.

Why is WhatsApp changing?

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook (they purchased it in Feb 2014 for USD21.8Billion, not bad for a business whose 2014 first half revenue was only USD15.9 million with a company net loss of USD232.5 million at the time of purchase).

At the time of purchase WhatsApp had 500 million active users and they were adding 1 million users per month.  By October 2020 that number has increased to over 2.5 Billion active users.  It is the biggest messaging system on the planet with Facebook Messenger and China’s WeChat a distant second and third.

Now that over 30% of the worlds entire population uses WhatsApp daily Facebook has decided it is time to leverage from this information knowing that the app is so entrenched in people’s lives that they are unlikely to move elsewhere.

Let’s face it you can only really move away from WhatsApp when all your WhatsApp contacts have moved also otherwise you have to keep it going or forfeit connecting to some people.  Even then where would you go?  Telegram, Signal, Line etc…  there is no chance of all your contacts moving to the same platform so this means you will need multiple ones.

What is changing?

WhatsApp’s updated policy says that it may share your information with its family of companies to “facilitate, support and integrate their activities and improve our services.”

“We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings, including the Facebook Company Products,” WhatsApp says.

It is also possible that your information could be used by Facebook and its other products to make suggestions for you, personalise features and content, help you complete purchases and transactions, and show relevant offers and ads across the Facebook list of companies.

What is not changing?

As before all messages you send will still be end to end encrypted.  This means that neither WhatsApp nor any of Facebook or its related companies will access or read your messages.

What is being shared?

The data you provided when you signed up to WhatsApp and other information they have collected during your use of the app may be shared.

It has your phone number from when you signed up.  It also collects and shares user activity, how often you use WhatsApp, features you use, your profile photo, your status and ‘about’ information and probably most importantly the phone numbers of your WhatsApp contacts.

It also collects device-level information like what device you use, your mobile network, IP address, among others. It also collects and uses precise location information from your device, but with your permission.

Who is it being shared with?

Facebook has acquired 88 companies over the last 15 years.  For a full list of the companies have a look at the Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_by_Facebook).

So, your data can be shared with 88 other companies once you give your permission simply so that you can continue to use WhatsApp.

Is it all bad?

No, it is not all doom and gloom.  Whilst your personal data is being shared with Facebook and related companies your messages are still secure and safe.

“Nothing you share on WhatsApp, including your messages, photos, and account information, will be shared onto Facebook or any of our other family of apps for others to see, and nothing you post on those apps will be shared on WhatsApp for others to see,” WhatsApp says.

WhatsApp doesn’t store your messages once they’ve been delivered. Messages are stored on the user’s device and not on WhatsApp’s servers. Once messages are delivered, they are deleted from its servers.

While delivering a message, WhatsApp’s servers store undelivered messages in encrypted form for up to 30 days and if a message is still undelivered after 30 days, WhatsApp claims to delete it.

“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,” WhatsApp adds.

According to WhatsApp there is no intention to introduce Ads to the platform.  It has never permitted third party ads and claims it will not do so now.

In addition to the above because of GDPR rules and regulations users in Europe are exempt from the new data sharing practices.

What choice do you have?

To continue using WhatsApp, you need to accept the new terms and conditions. If you do not wish to it is recommended that you delete your account.

If you have already accepted the new terms and conditions, but do not want WhatsApp to share data with Facebook, or other businesses, you will have an additional 30 days to opt out and delete your account.

However, you must ensure you not only uninstall WhatsApp, but you must also delete your account from WhatsApp. This can be done by going to settings > Account and selecting ‘Delete my account’.  You should note however that messages you have sent to individuals or groups will not be deleted from their devices.

If you would like to discuss the security implications of this or your options should you use WhatsApp heavily in the course of your business then please feel free to reach out to me at phil.aldridge@functioneight.com

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