New WhatsApp privacy update will allow app to share user data with Facebook

The latest WhatsApp privacy update gives Facebook complete access to users’ data on the messaging app from February 8, 2021. Starting today, WhatsApp users were notified of the new terms and privacy policy via a notification on opening the app. Although in 2016, changed WhatsApp privacy policy allowed data sharing with Facebook by default, existing users had the option to opt-out of information sharing with Facebook. Having said that, the new privacy terms will not be applicable in the European region due to their privacy laws.

At the time of WhatsApp acquisition in 2014, users were assured that their data will be kept private and not be shared with Facebook. Later the revision of WhatsApp privacy policy was implemented on the pretext that connecting users’ phone numbers with Facebook will allow the system to “offer better friend suggestions and show more relevant ads.”

New WhatsApp privacy update allows data sharing with Facebook

The latest update in WhatsApp privacy policy removes the opt-out option for all and gives Facebook access to users’ information on the app to run personalized ads. The new privacy policy is detailed on the app’s support page which details the type of user information collected and now all of the collected data is shared with Facebook. WhatsApp automatically stores the following data:

  • Usage and log information
  • Device and connection information
  • Location information
  • Cookie

Although WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption, the app has temporary access to users’ messages and shared media via a loophole. The policy states,

We do not retain your messages in the ordinary course of providing our Services to you. Instead, your messages are stored on your device and not typically stored on our servers. Once your messages are delivered, they are deleted from our servers. The following scenarios describe circumstances where we may store your messages in the course of delivering them:

  • Undelivered Messages. If a message cannot be delivered immediately (for example, if the recipient is offline), we keep it in encrypted form on our servers for up to 30 days as we try to deliver it. If a message is still undelivered after 30 days, we delete it.
  • Media Forwarding. When a user forwards media within a message, we store that media temporarily in encrypted form on our servers to aid in more efficient delivery of additional forwards.

This WhatsApp privacy update is released at the time when Facebook’s personalized ads business model based on collecting users’ data is under threat by an upcoming iOS 14 ATT privacy update which will allow users to opt-out of app tracking across third-party apps and website on their smartphones. Human and digital rights organization and Facebook employees question the social media platform ad campaign against Apple’s privacy update.

Furthermore, the social media company faces lawsuits by 46 states and federal regulators for anticompetitive behavior in the United States which are seeking to  “unwound” the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp by Facebook. Personally, Facebook appears to be tone-deaf to public sentiment in support of stronger privacy features and is doing the opposite by releasing invasive updates like the new WhatsApp privacy update.

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