Backlash over new WhatsApp privacy policy

Lina B.

Date published: Sat, 30 January 21

WhatsApp, the popular messaging app, was recently brought under fire for new privacy updates. The updates were to be accepted by a certain date, otherwise users’ WhatsApp accounts would be deleted. After criticism from news outlets and the general public, WhatsApp has decided to push back its earlier deadline to accept new privacy updates, and has issued a statement on what the new privacy updates encompass. 

WhatsApp has clarified in a statement that they, as well as their parent company, Facebook, cannot see personal messages or hear calls. Personal messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. However, although WhatsApp cannot see or hear messages or calls, it does not offer meta data encryption, and collects meta data. Metadata is a set of data that describes information about other data. The metadata collected by WhatsApp includes the information such as device ID, user ID, advertising data, purchase history, phone number, email addresses, and more.

Bloomberg News says, “WhatsApp is now reserving the right to share data it collects about you with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram, regardless of whether you have accounts or profiles there. Much of the policy, which is about monetizing WhatsApp, is broadly in line with what came before, and states that ‘WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook Companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate’ and market services. For long-time users, the option to share data with Facebook was made available in 2016, but it was just that: optional and temporary. It was to become mandatory for everybody from Feb. 8, but the company delayed that to May 15 while it further explains the changes.”

Through the metadata that WhatsApp collects, it can gather information about users that will then allow more targeted ads to people on Facebook and Instagram. There are other messaging-based applications, such as Signal and Telegram, that provide more privacy options than WhatsApp. The table below summarizes these popular apps and the features they have for privacy.