WhatsApp announces sharing user data with Facebook
After WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, users worried that the messaging app’s strong stance on privacy might be compromised. Co-founder Jan Koum hoped to stem these fears, writing in a blog post at the time: “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible.” Today, though, the company is loosening some of its own restrictions, and has announced it will begin sharing a limited amount of user data — including individuals’ phone numbers — with parent company Facebook.
WhatsApp says that sharing this information means Facebook can offer better friend suggestions by mapping users’ social connections across the two services, and deliver more relevant ads on the social network. Additional analytics data from WhatsApp will also be shared to track usage metrics and fight spam.
According to the blog post, these changes are a result of WhatsApp’s desire to allows businesses to directly communicate with its more than 1 billion users.
You can read WhatsApp’s full updated documents here.
Opting out of the data-sharing entirely does not seem to be possible, but WhatsApp is offering a partial opt out — specifically for Facebook ad targeting and product-related purposes.
However it notes that data will still be shared “for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities”.
So there is no way to totally opt out, short of short of stopping using WhatsApp.
A WhatsApp spokesperson declined to comment on why it is not offering users a complete opt out of data-sharing with Facebook, but in a statement the spokesperson said: “We understand people with WhatsApp accounts might want to opt out of sharing their account information to improve their Facebook experiences. They have an additional 30 days to opt out after accepting the new terms so they have time to consider their choices.”
“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible,” said WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum in a blog post published at that time.
How to opt out of sharing data for Facebook ad targeting
WhatsApp details two ways to opt out of sharing data for Facebook ad targeting on its blog here.
If you’ve already accepted the new T&Cs without unchecking the box to share your information with Facebook WhatsApp is also offering a thirty-day window to make the same choice — via the settings page in the app.
To exercise your opt out in this scenario you need to go to Settings > Account > Share my account info in the app and uncheck the box/toggle the control displayed there. And so so within the thirty-day window. Presumably, after that, even this partial opt out will expire.
No Option to Completely Opt-Out of Data Sharing
If you think WhatsApp is more privacy conscious than Facebook’s Messenger, it is not anymore.
WhatsApp is offering a solution partially to opt out the data sharing, specifically for Facebook ad targeting and product-related purposes.
However, the company notes that data will still be shared “for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.”
So, those who are thinking to opt out of the data-sharing entirely: There’s no possible way to opt totally out.
Though one short solution is to stop using WhatsApp.
WhatsApp promises the changes won’t lead to a “spammy” service
Despite these assurances, WhatsApp’s users are still likely to feel annoyed that the company is sharing information with Facebook. Part of the app’s popularity has always come from its unobtrusive (and unprofitable) business model, which gives users an easy way to communicate without using their data to serve ads. WhatsApp’s commitment to user privacy has even brought it into conflict with law enforcement, with a Brazilian court temporarily banning the app in July for refusing to hand over messages (it argued it couldn’t if it wanted to).
WhatsApp new features
The company also shared it has rolled out several new features such as end-to-end encryption and WhatsApp Calling alongside various other messaging tools like WhatsApp for web and desktop.
Though privacy policies are being relaxed, WhatsApp assured its users that thanks to the new end-to-end encryption, private messages will remain private.
The latest version of WhatsApp will encrypt user messages by default, which means that no one outside of the conversation will be able to read them. “Even as we coordinate more with Facebook in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else,” WhatsApp wrote in the blog post.