The truth about your WhatsApp data

There was a backlash against WhatsApp in recent days after it posted what appear to be revised privacy policies. Let me try to clarify what happened.

Some people think that the messaging application will now force those who use it to hand over their personal data to Facebook, which owns WhatsApp.

That is not quite correct.

WhatsApp’s policies changed cosmetically and not in a way that would give Facebook more data. The bottom line is that Facebook already collects a lot of information about what people do on WhatsApp.

The confusion was the result of failed communications from Facebook, mistrust of the company, and breached data protection laws in the United States.

Here’s what changed with WhatsApp and what didn’t:

Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, and since 2016 almost everyone who uses the messaging app has been (usually unknowingly) sharing information about their activity with Facebook.

Facebook knows the phone numbers used, how often the app is opened, the device’s screen resolution, the estimated location from the internet connection, and more, as explained by my colleague Kashmir Hill five years ago. .

Facebook uses this information to make sure WhatsApp works properly and to help a shoe company show you an ad on Facebook.

Facebook cannot look at the content of text messages or phone calls because WhatsApp communications are encrypted. Facebook also says that it does not keep logs on who people communicate with on WhatsApp, and WhatsApp contacts are not shared with Facebook.

WhatsApp has many positives. It is easy to use and the communications in the application are secure. But yes, WhatsApp is Facebook, a company that many do not trust.

There are alternatives, including Signal and Telegram, both of which have received a surge of new users recently. The digital privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation says that Signal and WhatsApp are good options for most people. The Wall Street Journal also looked at the pros and cons of several popular messaging apps.

The reason WhatsApp recently notified app users about the revised privacy rules is that Facebook is trying to make WhatsApp a place to chat with an airline about a missed flight, search for bags, and pay for things.

WhatsApp policies changed to reflect the possibility of commercial transactions involving the mixing of activity between Facebook applications; For example, a bag that browses on WhatsApp could appear later in your Instagram app.

Unfortunately, WhatsApp did a terrible job explaining its privacy policy updates. Kash and I, a data privacy rock star, took a fair amount of reporting to figure out.

I also want to mention the deeper reasons for the misunderstandings.

First of all, this is a hangover from Facebook’s history of being arrogant with our personal data and reckless with the way the company or its partners use it. No wonder people assumed Facebook changed WhatsApp policies in a bloody way.

Second, people have come to understand that privacy policies are confusing and that we really don’t have the power to make companies collect less data.

“This is the problem with the nature of privacy law in the United States,” Kash said. “As long as they tell you they are doing it in a policy that you probably haven’t read, they can do whatever they want.”

That means that digital services, including WhatsApp, give us an unattractive option. Either we give up control over what happens to our personal information or we don’t use the service. That’s.

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