WhatsApp gives users an ultimatum: share data with Facebook or stop using the app | GeekComparison

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WhatsApp, the messenger owned by Facebook and claiming to have privacy encoded in its DNA, is issuing an ultimatum to its more than 2 billion users: agree to share their personal information with the social network or delete their accounts.

The requirement is delivered via an in-app warning instructing users to agree to major changes to the WhatsApp terms of service. Those who do not accept the updated privacy policy by February 8 will no longer be able to use the app.

Share and share equally

Shortly after Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, the developers built state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption into the messaging app. The move was seen as a victory for privacy advocates because it used the Signal Protocol, an open source encryption scheme whose source code has been reviewed and verified by dozens of independent security experts.

In 2016, WhatsApp gave users a one-time opportunity to opt out of transferring account information to Facebook. Now an updated privacy policy changes that. Next month, users will no longer have that choice. Some of the data WhatsApp collects include:

  • User phone numbers
  • Other people’s phone numbers stored in address books
  • Profile names
  • Profile pictures and
  • Status message including when a user was last online
  • Diagnostic data collected from app logs

Under the new terms, Facebook reserves the right to share collected data with its family of companies.

“As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from and shares information with this family of companies,” the new privacy policy reads. “We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them to help manage, deliver, improve, understand, adapt, support and market our Services and their offerings.”

In some cases, such as when someone uses WhatsApp to communicate with third-party companies, Facebook may also share information with those third-party entities.

A lack of transparency

The move comes a month after Apple required makers of iOS apps, including WhatsApp, to detail the information they collect from users. WhatsApp reserves the right to:

  • Purchases
  • Financial information
  • Place
  • Contacts
  • User Content
  • IDs
  • Usage data and
  • Diagnostics

A WhatsApp spokeswoman declined to officially speak about the changes and exactly how and whether it will be possible for users to opt out. She agreed to email additional information on the condition that it be kept in the background, meaning none of the details can be quoted verbatim.

The move, the spokeswoman said, is part of a previously announced move to allow businesses to store and manage WhatsApp chats using Facebook’s infrastructure. Users do not need to use WhatsApp to communicate with the companies and have the option to block the companies. She said there will be no change in the way WhatsApp shares provide data to Facebook for non-business chats and account information.

Together, WhatsApp’s privacy policy and terms of service are over 8,000 words long and full of legal jargon that makes it difficult for non-lawyers to understand. WhatsApp is doing its users a disservice by not agreeing to speak officially so reporters can fully understand the changes and explain them to readers.

People who object to the new terms and policies should consider using a different messenger. The Signal Messenger offers the same robust encryption engine with a much more transparent privacy policy and terms of service. (Those documents are also half as long as WhatsApp’s.) In addition to encrypted chats, Signal also offers encrypted audio and video calls.

Post updated to add details in the penultimate paragraph.

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