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WhatsApp updates Facebook data sharing ultimatum

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WhatsApp has amended its ultimatum of sharing personal information with Facebook subsidiaries or deleting their account to losing key features, rendering the app useless.

21st May 2021
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Millions of WhatsApp users have been spooked over the last few months over concerns of data sharing between WhatsApp and WhatsApp parent Facebook.

In January, users were told they must agree to their data being shared with Facebook and all Facebook subsidiaries by 15 May, or their accounts would be deleted. WhatsApp has now amended this ultimatum. 

Those who haven’t yet accepted will begin to see increasingly persistent reminders to agree to the new terms. Those who do not accept the new terms will gradually lose app functionality until it stops working altogether:

  • You won’t be able to access your chat list, but you can still answer incoming phone and video calls. If you have notifications enabled, you can tap on them to read or respond to a message or call back a missed phone or video call.

  • After a few weeks of limited functionality, you won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone.

After 120 days of inactivity, WhatsApp accounts will then be automatically closed.

Among the Facebook Companies that will access WhatsApp user data following privacy changes are Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Payments, Onavo and Facebook Technologies.

The new policy forced by WhatsApp is a 180-degree switch in privacy approach compared to last year when users could choose to keep their information private from Facebook.

What information is WhatsApp sharing with Facebook and subsidiaries?

As part of the Facebook Companies, ‘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,’ says WhatsApp's updated privacy policy.

The policy stipulates that WhatsApp user information shared with Facebook Companies ‘includes your account registration information, transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with 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.’

It means that names, profile pictures, status updates, phone numbers, contacts lists, IP addresses and mobile devices data (ie model numbers, operating system versions, and network carriers) will be shared with the Facebook empire.

However, the terms specify that personal conversations with end-to-end encryption will remain protected ‘so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see these private messages. We don’t keep logs of who everyone’s messaging or calling and can’t see your shared location so we cannot and do not share this with Facebook.’

Will there be any real change?

According to The Register, a WhatsApp spokesperson claimed there would be no change in data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook for non-business conversations. And for those who previously denied the data sharing request, this would remain even when accepting the new terms.

WhatsApp ultimately claims there are no real changes for its users. However, the confusing attempts at communication and convoluted fine print leave a huge question mark over Facebook’s intentions.

It begs the question: if the policy changes are so inconsequential, why is Facebook going to such lengths to pressure people into accepting them?

In fact, Germany has gone as far as to temporarily ban Facebook from using personal information from WhatsApp under the GDPR via a three-month injunction. The fine print is so complicated that “even after close analysis, it is not clear what consequences approval has for users,” said Hamburg commissioner for data protection and freedom of information Johannes Caspar.

Rival apps Telegram and Signal cash in 

Despite WhatsApp claiming to be a victim of “misinformation”, rival communications apps Telegram and Signal have continued to stoke the flames and gain disgruntled users leaving the messaging giant.

“My general take on the whole issue is a lot of it has been blown out of proportion and a lot of competitors have jumped on the bandwagon and tried to benefit from the news, “ said Beever and Struthers senior manager John Toon.

Last weekend saw Telegram and WhatsApp get into a school ground Twitter spat, in which Telegram went for the jugular and accused WhatsApp of lying about its encryption. Whatsapp, however, returned in kind:

According to Forbes, the WhatsApp versus Telegram Twitter battle held stark irony. WhatsApp users have been flocking to Telegram over fears. “But whatever your views on Facebook and the change of terms, WhatsApp is more secure than Telegram—that’s a simple statement of fact,” it said.

End-to-end encryption means the keys to decrypt messages are held only by senders and recipients, not by the service provider. Although traffic is encrypted on platforms like Telegram, it only works between devices and their servers, not end-to-end. “As such, those platforms can access content,” added Forbes.

Ultimately, WhatsApp has first-mover status, which makes it all the more difficult for competitors to disrupt.

“I personally don't care what they share and if you don’t accept the conditions, what are the alternatives?” commented Toon. 

For those opting to move to another communication tool option, the hassle of recruiting friends and clients to move over will likely be fragmented and a considerable challenge.

WhatsApp for accountants

For many accountants, there are greater pre-existing concerns with WhatsApp. Many use the WhatsApp personal app by default, and not the WhatsApp Business App, which raises data issues connected with using a solution for the purpose. 

“In terms of sharing data with Facebook, and what they are and aren’t, accountants that are tech-savvy are likely already using Facebook, so they’ll just be enhancing that relationship,” said Toon.

“I think using WhatsApp really depends on the business,” he added. “For Beever and Struthers, we’re a large organisation and a lot of our clients don’t want to give out personal phone numbers and that's the prerequisite for using WhatsApp.” 

Most firms will need to capture all conversations. “We don’t want our staff dishing out bad advice or incorrect advice which might result in problems for us, so it's not something we promote internally,” continued Toon. “We do use text occasionally but we do try and capture that.

“I know other businesses and accounting firms use it really effectively for mass communication so it’s horses for courses. And if it works for you, that's great but personally, from a business point of view, we haven’t embraced it.”

Replies (4)

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Jason Croke
By Jason Croke
27th May 2021 16:11

It's not just privacy, WhatsApp has also craftily changed a privacy setting in groups. Usually this was set to "My Contacts", that means only my contacts can interact with me at group level, but WhatsApp changed that to "everyone" and so anyone could contact me and ask me to join their group and I had some spammy invites until I changed the setting.

Go to settings, account, privacy and under "Groups" make sure you set to My Contacts" unless of course you want anyone to contact you.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Jason Croke:
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By Hugo Fair
27th May 2021 11:20

That's not just 'craftily' ... it's sneaky, weasel-like and downright anti-social.
It's akin to your alarm company deciding (without a word to you) to publish your alarm-code to all and sundry ... and then, when you eventually discover what they've done, saying to you "well you can always change your alarm-code if you want"!

Thanks (3)
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By richard.snape
27th May 2021 12:58

This article says contact lists will be shared with Facebook, which concerned me.
"It means that names, profile pictures, status updates, phone numbers, contacts lists, IP addresses and mobile devices data (ie model numbers, operating system versions, and network carriers) will be shared with the Facebook empire."
However a little research found the following statement in a WhatsApp privicy article:
"Importantly, WhatsApp does not share your WhatsApp contacts with Facebook or any other members of the Facebook Companies for use for their own purposes, and there are no plans to do so."
The two statements are not quite contradictory (for their own purposes) but the latter doesn't sound so bad.

Thanks (0)
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By Tickers
27th May 2021 14:48

Just because tech companies say that they are not going to share your data doesn't mean it's true. What exactly is the overall exchange with Whatsapp??? I understand that if I use Facebook or Twitter they show me ads, there is an offer and acceptance and I understand that but what exactly is the offer and acceptance with Whatsapp. Use this app for Free with no strings attached?

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