Privacy, WhatsApp and Facebook: a matter of trust


WhatsApp has been getting a bit of stick this past week with news of changes to its terms and privacy policy that will allow the messaging service to share your usage behaviours and other data with Facebook.

[…] by coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp. And by connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of.

There’s more to WhatsApp’s announcement, but it’s the changes to the privacy policy that have produced the most negative reaction as this handful of headlines suggests:

And, as TechCrunch notes, the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK says they’re looking into the matter:

We’ve been informed of the changes. Organisations do not need to get prior approval from the ICO to change their approaches, but they do need to stay within data protection laws. We are looking into this.

What a kerfuffle! But is it one in a teacup?

That depends on your point of view, and how much you trust WhatsApp and Facebook. After all, WhatsApp is on record as saying that it wouldn’t do precisely what it is now doing, as Ars Technica notes:

[…] While hardly surprising, it is a massive U-turn to WhatsApp’s original ad-free business strategy, which carried a nominal yearly subscription fee of 69p ($1). It was dropped for good in January, leading analysts to surmise that changes would be coming – even as WhatsApp denied any plans for an ad-wrapped future.

In a comprehensive FAQ, the company states its reasons for the changes:

WhatsApp is part of the Facebook family of companies, and sharing some information allows us to coordinate more and improve experiences across our services and those of Facebook and the Facebook family.

And the FAQ – a good example of some clear communication – talks about other changes including new features such as WhatsApp Calling, WhatsApp for web and desktop, and end-to-end encryption.

In the end, I think it comes down to trust – your belief that the privacy changes (in particular) that are about WhatsApp sharing your usage behaviours and information with its parent Facebook will produce precisely the outcomes WhatsApp says they will.

If you don’t then you have two obvious choices

  1. The extreme – Stop using WhatsApp: close your account
  2. The pragmatic – Opt out of sharing information with Facebook and continue using WhatsApp

I chose the latter. Here’s how.

And if you don’t have a Facebook account? Well, you shouldn’t be concerned. Probably.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Chris Norton

    All of these channels have to make money, Facebook is so big now it seems to be able to do what it wants apart from buy Snapchat. And if it can’t afford you it will just create a copycat version and add it to its services. I think privacy is important but I doubt the public will be able to stop What’s App from trying to make money. The amount of collective data this organisation has on people will be frightening. I for one though am not worried.

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