WhatsApp dispels fears over new privacy policy regulations

Anand Mokashi

Anand Mokashi

Auckland, January 25, 2021

Update delayed until May 15, 2021

Image Courtesy: TECHNOZU

 

Confusion and misinformation currently clouds the minds of millions of users of WhatsApp, one of the most popular and user-friendly text and video communication Apps.

One of the most important features that led to the sky-high popularity of this App is the comfort of knowing that all messages are “end-to-end-encrypted.”

This means that no one, not even WhatsApp, can read or know what any message contains.

For some time now, WhatsApp users have been receiving the following in-App Notice regarding the service’s new terms and privacy policy.

New Terms and Privacy Policy

The Notice informs users about three key updates that will affect how WhatsApp processes user data, how businesses can use Facebook-hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats, and how WhatsApp will soon collaborate with Facebook to offer “deeper integrations” across all of the latter’s products.

Readers would be aware that WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, has been sharing some limited information about its users with the social giant since 2016.

The message initially stated that these changes will go into effect on February 8, 2021, and users would be required to accept these changes if they wish to continue using WhatsApp.

The new terms and privacy policy comes about six months after a similar change WhatsApp announced in July last year and included a summary of how WhatsApp will share information with Facebook, and how any shared information might be used.

(Image Source: WhatsApp)

Options to users withdrawn

There is however, a major difference this time. While in the previous update, WhatsApp gave users the option to ”not have your WhatsApp account information shared with Facebook” this time, WhatsApp has withdrawn that option.

Users will have to accept the new terms and privacy policy if they want to continue using the instant messenger after the cut-off date.

The response worldwide has been understandably robust.

Global reaction

According to TechCrunch, India, a prolific WhatsApp using nation, has even asked WhatsApp to withdraw the planned change to its privacy policy. In an email to WhatsApp Head Will Cathcart, the Nation’s IT Ministry said that the upcoming update to the App’s data-sharing policy has raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens… Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

TechCrunch states that they had obtained a copy of the email letter sent by India’s IT Ministry to WhatsApp regarding the App’s new policy change.

Fears unfounded

Upon studying the changes to policy however, it appears to me that many of the user’s extreme fears are unfounded. For a start, there appears to be no change in the handling of the encryption and messages will continue to remain end-to-end-encrypted as before. On their website FAQ page, the following text is prominently displayed.

Further clarifications in different parts of the WhatsApp website state: “We recently updated our Privacy Policy and we have received many thoughtful questions. With some of the rumours going around, we want to answer some of the common questions we have received. We go to great lengths to build WhatsApp in a way that helps people communicate privately.

We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. The changes are related to optional business features on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. Learn more about new business features and WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy update here.”

Users can therefore confidently relax with the knowledge that the “information” collected by WhatsApp is not their chats, since those will continue to remain encrypted and therefore cannot be seen by the company even if it wanted to do so.

(Image Source: WhatsApp)

 

Significant update

The information to be shared is personal data such as the phone number of users and their contacts, profile names and pictures, and diagnostic data. As such, there is no concern, not yet at least, that private WhatsApp conversations will be harvested to use for advertisements or other purposes by Facebook, for instance. The really significant recent update is that WhatsApp has added new features to allow people to communicate with businesses and those businesses could be hosted by Facebook.

When speaking to those contacts, messages might be stored and managed by Facebook, and so those conversations could be shared with the company more generally.

Not surprisingly, WhatsApp insists that European users will not see any changes to the use of their data, even if they agree to the terms. Though the reasons for this exception are not clear, it is my hunch that this is directly or indirectly linked to the GDPR.

New Policy delayed

And finally, following widespread confusion over whether the new policy would mandate data sharing with Facebook, WhatsApp has announced that it will delay enforcing its new privacy terms from February 8 to May 15, 2021. 

“We have heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There has been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” WhatsApp said in a blog post on January 15, 2021.

So loyal WhatsApp users can take a deep breath, relax and take some time before they make up their minds on “What’s up with WhatsApp.”

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional or legal advice about the product and its usage. The author has expressed his views based on a number of sources, which he has referenced, including the WhatsApp website. The author is in no way related to or connected with WhatsApp, Facebook, or any of their companies and takes no responsibility of any decision or outcome for WhatsApp users. All users are urged to read the Policy rules and regulations of the website and make their own informed decision about the product and its usage. It is possible that the Policy may change again in future.

Anand Mokashi is an IT Lecturer and a passionate Netizen.
Email: anand_mokashi@consultant.com

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