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Whatsapp’s New Privacy Policy, its Impact on Users and Continuing Concerns

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The popular online messaging app, WhatsApp, has released its new policy which will be implemented from February 8th 2021 and the company is receiving backlash from privacy advocates questioning the move, quoting Facebook’s reputation in processing user data.  This has also prompted many users and corporate leaders – including Tesla founder Elon Musk – to call for people to chuck the app and move to more privacy-focused messaging services like Signal app and Telegram.

There has been a lot of confusion and sense of distrust about the company.

So let’s take a walk around about what the new policy is all about, what has changed and how WhatsApp fares against its alternatives.

Firstly, the updated privacy policy requires its users to “agree” to share data it collects about them – such as their phone number and location – with Facebook from February 8th or else they would lose access to their accounts.

This data will be imparted with the wider Facebook network, such as Instagram and Messenger, and applies irrespective of whether you have accounts or profiles there.

The choice to share data with Facebook has been on the app previously, but up until now, it was only an option.

The conditions now clearly assert 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.”

Doyens say this change expands the assimilation between Facebook and WhatsApp; it doesn’t come as a shocker though.  In their views, “they always intended to combine WhatsApp with other services.  They’re trying to make money out of WhatsApp.  From a business outlook, it makes sense.”

Although the privacy concerns from its users are valid, they say.  WhatsApp may still encrypt text conversations, but “other, unencrypted data points” may be knotty – now or in the forthcoming.  “As with many products like these, sometimes companies gather data and they don’t know how they devise on using it,” they say.  “Once they commence, it’s only then we realize moral and privacy concerns.”

Part of the apprehension arises from Facebook’s not-so-trustworthy track record on privacy, they add.

Facebook has long been in the fuss for privacy cracks and security susceptibilities, starting from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.  Every issue since then has augmented to a pessimistic perception of the company in general.

So, what’s transformed?

With regards to how the messaging service operates–zilch (nothing).

The key appeal of the app – end-to-end encryption of conversations and calls – is still integral. Neither WhatsApp itself nor Facebook and its organizations can read them, meaning no one, including WhatsApp, can discern what users are communicating to each other.

WhatsApp of firms it will not disclose contacts with Facebook, nor can it or Facebook see users’ shared location. Messages can still be set to disappear and groups still remain private, the company clarified on Twitter. WhatsApp also added that it does not maintain logs of who everyone is messaging or calling.

Read More: Digital Workspace

The category of information that is being shared with Facebook is the keyvariance. According to the policy, other information that will be shared with Facebook includes the users’ browser information, language, time zone, IP address and mobile network.Your phone’s battery level, signal strength and connection information – such as your ISP (internet service provider)- will also be shared.

The data that WhatsApp will disclose to Facebook includes:

  • Data related to how one interacts with a business on its app and these conversations will be clearly categorized. It will soon provide businesses with an option to use Facebook’s hosting infrastructure to manage WhatsApp chats with their clients, answer questions and send information like purchase receipts. Businesses may use this information for their own marketing purposes, which may include promotion on Facebook.
  • The company said businesses can soon choose to store their communication with its WhatsApp users on Facebook’s hosting service, and this data can then be used for marketing purposes, including advertising on Facebook.
  • It added that if a patron uses Facebook Shops, where businesses create an online store on the social network and use WhatsApp for interacting with users, the data can be used to show user-targeted ads. Similarly, if a user sees a Facebook ad and reaches out to the business through WhatsApp, this data will be used by the social media company for advertising.

Let’s have a look on what the other two popular alternative apps offer in comparison to WhatsApp:

Comparison of features on WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram
Features WhatsApp Telegram Signal
End-to-End encryption Y Only “Secret Chats” and all calls Y
Chat backups Y, 3rd party Y, on Telegram’s Cloud No, stored locally
Ads No No, plans to add No
Disappearing Messages Y Y Y
Group Chat Security Y, E2E No Y, E2E
Video and voice calls Y Y Y

 

So, what should I do, stay on WhatsApp or move to an alternative?

Well, if you use WhatsApp principally to communicate with friends and family, there is nothing to be worried about.  The most popular alternative, Signal, also boasts of end-to-end encryption (E2E) and its E2E protocol is actually used by WhatsApp. It has a number of elements that WhatsApp extends, but certain such as group video calling are still in the beta stage. It also misses some of the handiness that WhatsApp offers such as the option to back up all your chats to a third-party service such as Google Drive or iCloud, or the facility to connect to business accounts.

The biggest benefit of WhatsApp is that it is permeate and perhaps everyone around you is using it.  Moving to an alternative app will only make point if an entire group decides to move on to it.

However, if you are thinking of leaving WhatsApp but still going to use Facebook products such as Messenger, Instagram and Facebook itself, then that move will be futile.

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