Tag Archives: WhatsApp

WhatsApp Wants to Share User Data with Facebook



WhatsApp logoWhatsApp updated its terms and privacy policy for the first time in four years. Some of those changes are likely to turn off users. In short, WhatsApp wants to share user data with Facebook for the purpose of using it to show you targeted ads. There is a way to opt-out of it.

WhatsApp posted an oddly worded blog post that describes more about what it is about to do. It tries to reassure users that they will still be able to keep in touch with friends and loved ones on WhatsApp. Next, it vaguely suggests that the new terms and privacy policy is intended to benefit companies that want to show you adds. From the blog post:

People use our app every day to keep in touch with loved ones who matter to them, and this isn’t changing. But as we announced earlier this year, we want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam. Whether it’s hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight, many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls. We want to test these features in the next several months, but need to update our terms and privacy policy to do so.

The wording implies that WhatsApp thinks that talking with your loved ones is an equally valuable experience as communicating with “businesses who matter to you”. I doubt many users are going to be convinced of that notion. No one joins a social media site or app because they simply cannot wait to connect with businesses and see more ads.

WhatsApp goes on to point out that they will share some user data with Facebook. It assures users that they have “rolled out end-to-end encryption”, and that user messages are encrypted by default.

WhatsApp also states that it won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and that it also won’t give your phone number to advertisers. Then, WhatsApp suggests that connecting your phone number to Facebook’s systems will enable Facebook to “offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads”.

If you are using both WhatsApp and Facebook, and you want to opt-out of this new change, you can. WhatsApp has instructions on how to do that directly from the app.


Groups Ask the FTC to Investigate the WhatsApp Deal



WhatsApp logoThe Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate how the WhatsApp deal will impact the privacy of its users. Facebook acquired WhatsApp just a few weeks ago.

The concern is that Facebook will use the personal information of WhatsApp’s more than 450 million users to target advertising. Those who started using WhatsApp before it was acquired by Facebook were told that WhatsApp would not collect user data for advertising revenue. The complaint states:

Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model. The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users’ understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

On June 18, 2012, WhatsApp posted a blog titled “Why we don’t sell ads”. Perhaps the key point is this sentence: “Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.”

WhatsApp also posted a blog on February 19, 2014, titled “Facebook”. It is about the acquisition. The key point from that blog might be this sentence: “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.” The blog promises that users can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting their communication through WhatsApp. Facebook has issued a statement indicating that they will honor WhatsApps commitments to privacy and security.

This situation reminds me of some words of wisdom that gets passed around. You cannot be certain that anything posted on “the internet” (on a blog, in a chat, or through social media) will be kept private forever. That being said, I can understand why users of WhatsApp feel betrayed. WhatsApp promised not to sell their data for adverting purposes. Will Facebook keep that promise? It will be very interesting to see what the FTC thinks about this situation.