The new Whatsapp Privacy Terms, what we almost gave consent to…

How many times have you accepted “Privacy Terms” or the very well-known “Cookies” without ever having read them first? 

You have probably done it so many more times than you can ever imagine or care to remember. By signing the ‘Terms and Conditions of Usage’ without consulting them as we go and use a new service, we expose ourselves to a number of risks – that we are unconsciously responsible for. Obviously, even if you have nothing to hide, I bet it would bother you a lot knowing that your personal data is displayed, and in most cases, stolen. There are many “sensitive” information – for instance, bank and card codes, telephone numbers, locations or house addresses, or simply intimate photos of yourself or loved ones -that you’re unaware of sharing. One of these platforms is Whatsapp, the most widely used daily app on the planet.

As we all know, Facebook announced in 2014 that it had purchased WhatsApp for a total of 19 billion US dollars. This, however, occurred seven years ago, and what concerns us is how the popular messaging app has changed its terms of service.

January of this year, if you had opened Whatsapp, you would have surely noticed a screen that warns users of some upcoming changes to service and the privacy policy: users had to accept sharing information with the social network or stop using the app.

More specifically, these changes referred to concern the possibility for companies to manage interactions with users (now more than two billion) through the centralized tools of Facebook. However, what is being discussed in another part of the updated privacy policy is the one in which Whatsapp warns that the user is no longer offered any choice as to whether or not to transfer their data to Facebook and other companies in the group.

“As part of the Facebook family of companies,” according to Facebook’s latest privacy policy, “Whatsapp receives information from and shares information with this family of companies. We may use the information we receive [from other companies], and [other companies] may use the information we share with them to help operate, provide, improve, understand, personalize, support, and market our services and their offerings.”

Henceforth, with the acceptance of the new terms of service, the information collected by Whatsapp on our smartphones can be transferred to Facebook and other companies controlled by Zuckerberg’s company to better user’s profiles. With this change, Whatsapp definitively eliminates the option, introduced in 2016, of using the service without necessarily being subjected to the systematic collection of personal information by the social network. The updated privacy policy indicates explicitly how many and what data is collected and shared. “Currently, WhatsApp only shares certain types of information with Facebook companies,” the document reads. “The information we share with other Facebook companies includes account registration information (such as phone number), transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with other users (including companies) when you use our Services, information about your mobile device and your IP address. They may also include other information indicated in the “Information collected” section of the Privacy Policy or collected with prior notice or with your consent. “ In other words, the acceptance of the new privacy policy formulated by Whatsapp can be seen as a real ultimatum: sharing information with the social network or stop using the app.

After the controversy, the messaging platform tried to clarify. In a note dated January 15, Whatsapp reassures: “the new terms of service will no longer enter into force on February 8 but three months later: the changes concerning new optional options available to users who wish to communicate with companies on WhatsApp and offers greater transparency on our methods of collecting and using data“. Additionally, “On February, no accounts will be suspended or deleted. We will continue to work on clarifying incorrect information regarding security and privacy on WhatsApp. Gradually, and according to the timing of each, we will invite our users to review the information before May 15, when the new business options will be available “. WhatsApp also, rightly, notes that it has “contributed to the spread of end-to-end encryption worldwide,” and assures that it “continues to work to defend this security technology both today and in the future.”

Briefly, WhatsApp emphasizes that the update of the information does not affect the privacy of messages exchanged with friends and family, but includes changes concerning the exchange, entirely optional, of messages with companies that use WhatsApp and provides greater transparency on the modalities of data collection and use.

In particular, concerning the privacy and security of personal messages, it is good to remember that:

1) Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read your private messages or listen to your calls.

2) Whatsapp doe not keep track of whom you call or message.

3) Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see the location you share.

4) WhatsApp does not share your contacts with Facebook.

5) The groups remain private.

6) You can turn on ephemeral messages and download your data.

 

Sources:

https://faq.whatsapp.com/general/security-and-privacy/answering-your-questions-about-whatsapps-privacy-policy

 

Giulia Francesca Pressani

 

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