In non-GDPR compliant countries, Facebook-owned WhatsApp have given their users an ultimatum; accept their new privacy policies by February 8th or they will no longer be able to use the app.
The main change for the end-to-end encrypted messaging service is the sharing of personal data with the Facebook “family of companies”. Back in 2016 WhatsApp gave users the choice to share data with Facebook or not, as of February that choice will no longer be in the user’s hands.
Thanks to Apple’s new policy requiring apps to share information on the data collected by the app we know that WhatsApp collects the following from users:
In the 8,000+ word terms and conditions update, WhatsApp and Facebook suggest that a user’s phone number, address book, profile information and diagnostic data will be shared purely to help businesses better communicate with potential customers and there will be no change to non-business chats. So, all the terrible things you have said about your ex in the group chat are safe for now. This update does mean users in countries like the US will likely start to see more correlation between the businesses they speak to on WhatsApp and the adverts they get on Facebook or Messenger.
Whilst the update might not be as big and scary as first thought, especially with the risk of users no longer being able to use the app, it does seem to have caused a surge in new users for WhatsApp’s rival, Signal. With the help of a tweet from Elon Musk on January 7th simply saying “Use Signal”, the small fry encrypted messaging service has had to delay sending out verification codes due to the sheer number of new sign ups. The app’s ranking on Google play has gone from 541st in the US on December 17th to 120th as of today (Jan 8th) and in the App store the change is even bigger, from 576th on December 17th to 32nd today.
Facebook’s desire to cross share data between products is not a new thing. In 2020 they forced Oculus users and game developers to login to their Oculus devices with a Facebook account, leading to a lot of unhappy users threatening to use rival VR brands. However, demand for Oculus as a brand is at its highest point ever and Zuckerberg is unlikely to lose any sleep over Signal which currently has 500k US Apple users compared to WhatsApp’s 14 million. Facebook will continue to collect and collate data points to harness their advertising offering and without stringent data protection regulation in place, users are left with a choice; agree or leave.