This article is more than 1 year old

WhatsApp: Share your data with Facebook, or we'll make our own app useless to you

Zuck gets tough just as Germany blocks privacy policy roll-out

WhatsApp users who refuse to accept its new privacy policy will slowly but surely be cut off from the chat app, the social network has confirmed.

In January, WhatsApp users were told if they wanted to keep using the software, they must agree to an updated fine print that, among other things, allows their data to be passed onto not only WhatsApp's parent Facebook but also its subsidiaries as and when decided by the tech giant.

This information includes names, profile pictures, status updates, phone numbers, contacts lists, and details about mobile devices and connections, though not the contents of encrypted messages and calls. Those who did not accept the terms and conditions would not be allowed to use the application from February.

After a surge of interest in alternative messaging systems, such as Signal and Telegram, in response to this ultimatum, Facebook backed down on the February deadline, and then returned swinging. For the past few weeks it has popped up alerts in WhatsApp attempting to explain the data sharing, and now says netizens must accept or lose out from May 15.

Folks who don't agree to the new terms by that date won't be cut off immediately. Instead, after several weeks they'll be shown "persistent reminders" and suffer a degradation of service. First, conversations will be hidden, though people will still be able to take incoming voice and video calls, and respond to messages via notifications. A few weeks after this, the software will be totally useless, and after 120 days of inactivity, the WhatsApp account will be automatically closed.

"If you’d like to delete your account on Android, iPhone, or KaiOS, we hope you reconsider. Deleting your account is something we can’t reverse as it erases your message history, removes you from all of your WhatsApp groups, and deletes your WhatsApp backups," Zuck & Co warned. You can export your messages and files from the app, if you so wish.

A spokesperson for the internet giant previously told The Register WhatsApp updated its privacy policy to allow users to send questions and requests to businesses via the app and Facebook's infrastructure, hence the need for the adjusted wording. She added there will be no change in data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook for non-business conversations. Also if you previously told WhatsApp not to share your information with Facebook, it still won't even if you accept the new terms.

In short, WhatsApp says there is no practical change for its users. However, this whole affair has been poorly communicated, the lengthy fine print is open to interpretation, and if the update is so immaterial: why is Facebook going so far as to wind down features in its own messaging app to pressure people into accepting?

Germany says nein, danke

This all comes as WhatsApp's terms and conditions face increasing scrutiny; the change in policy has even driven Germany to temporarily ban Facebook from processing people's personal info from WhatsApp under the GDPR.

Hamburg's Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information Johannes Caspar said [PDF] on Tuesday the three-month injunction, effective immediately, was brought because, besides other privacy concerns, the convoluted fine print is so difficult to understand that "even after close analysis, it is not clear what consequences approval has for users."

The commissioner's office said the changes to the fine print are not exactly inert, as they "grant WhatsApp far-reaching powers to share data with Facebook ... The new terms and conditions formally renew the data processing powers and expand their content for the future."

In a statement, Caspar said: "The order now issued relates to the further processing of WhatsApp user data and is directed at Facebook. The worldwide criticism against the new terms of service should give reason to fundamentally rethink the consent mechanism once again. Without user trust, no business model based on data can be successful in the long run."

The Germans are not entirely alone in this. India's government too has slammed the privacy policy, saying there are “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens.”

Nevertheless, Facebook doesn't really care, and the slow degradation of WhatsApp features will begin after people refuse to accept the revised wording. Signal is presumably gearing up for another flood of users. ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like