Hackernoon logoWhatsApp Privacy Policy: Everything You Need to Know by@jtruong

WhatsApp Privacy Policy: Everything You Need to Know

WhatsApp is an instant messaging application that Facebook owns. It is the third most used messaging application, according to Messenger People. The company tweaked its terms of service and privacy policy which notified users once they entered the application. It received a lot of backlash regarding the update which caused many users to move to other secure messaging applications, including Signal and Telegram which will be discussed later. WhatsApp issued a clarification stating that the new WhatsApp privacy policy would only affect users' communication with businesses and emphasized that personal chats and calls would still be end-to-end encrypted.
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@jtruongJessica Truong

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WhatsApp is an instant messaging application that Facebook owns. It is the third most used messaging application, according to Messenger People. Although it uses end-to-end encryption, it still collects more metadata on its users than other messaging applications like Signal. 

In January 2021, news circulated that WhatsApp planned to roll out in-app notifications to users, informing an update in its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. It was up to the user to accept the new WhatsApp Privacy Policy and Terms of Service to continue to use the messaging application.

WhatsApp Privacy Policy Controversy 

The company tweaked its terms of service and privacy policy which notified users once they entered the application. Users had to accept these updates to continue to use the application, and these changes were scheduled to be implemented on February 8th, 2021. The following were the updates made in terms of service and privacy policy:

  • WhatsApp’s service and how we process your data
  • How businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats
  • How they partner with Facebook to offer integrations across the Facebook Company Products

WhatsApp received a lot of backlash regarding the update which caused many users to move to other secure messaging applications, including Signal and Telegram which will be discussed later. Several users misunderstood the changes and thought it was an invasion of privacy hence why they received backlash.

The popularity of Signal and Telegram led to WhatsApp releasing a clarification on the update in hopes that it would clear up the misunderstandings and prevent more users from leaving the application.

The company issued a clarification stating that the new WhatsApp privacy policy would only affect users' communication with businesses and emphasized that personal chats and calls would still be end-to-end encrypted. They emphasized that user’s privacy and security would not be changing in the latest updates. This was another reason why the company also extended its new changes to be implemented on May 15th, 2021 giving users an extra three months to review and accept the policy. 

It has also been mentioned that the changes are not enforced but will affect the users' access to features within the application. 

What data will be shared if you agree to the privacy policy?

The updated privacy policy is meant for businesses using WhatsApp and the only information that would be shared with Facebook are phone numbers and transaction data.

What happens if I don’t accept the new WhatsApp privacy policy?

WhatsApp stated that users who refuse to accept the new terms will have limited functionality on their accounts beginning on May 15th, 2021. Each time users enter the app, they will be greeted with what the company calls “persistent reminders” reminding the user of the privacy policy.

However, after a few weeks, that will change and users will begin noticing some limitations within the application. Users will still be able to answer phone and video calls but will no longer have access to their chat list. If users have still not agreed to the privacy policy at this time, they will stop receiving incoming video/audio calls and will not receive any notifications of new messages.

The company will not delete your account if you do not accept the update but they will make the application almost unusable for users to force them to accept the new privacy policy. They also remind users of their existing policy for inactive accounts. The company stated on their FAQ page that inactive accounts (meaning ones where WhatsApp is on their device but they do not have an Internet connection) will be deleted after 120 days of inactivity. 

Users in Europe can opt out of the new WhatsApp privacy policy because of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Alternative Encrypted Messaging Apps

Most users who leave WhatsApp have switched over to one of the two apps: Signal or Telegram.

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Signal

The most obvious choice as it provides better security and supports end-to-end encryption for all communication. It only requires a phone number from users and does not link that number to your identity. Signal does not collect metadata and all messages are stored on your device and not in the cloud.

According to The Verge, Signal has received an increased number of users since Elon Musk posted a tweet on Twitter stating “Use Signal”. The company saw a delay in phone number verifications of new accounts because of the surge in new signal users. 

Telegram

Another good selection is Telegram, although it is not as secure as Signal and does not have end-to-end encryption enabled by default. To enable an end-to-end encrypted conversation, then you have to start a “secret” conversation. Unlike Signal, group conversations are not end-to-end encrypted and all messages are stored on the company’s cloud servers. 

The WhatsApp privacy policy has received its fair share of backlash and has tried to keep users from leaving by reinforcing that individual conversations between two users are still end-to-end encrypted. They even clarified that the updates specifically affect communication with businesses.

Unfortunately, WhatsApp did lose some users who switched over to Signal and Telegram. As someone who cares a lot about their privacy and security, I have been using Signal as my messaging application. Signal is not owned by Facebook and does not track your usage in the app, unlike WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. If you are looking for an alternative messaging application then I’d suggest considering Signal.

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