What appeared to be a routine change in privacy ended up becoming a headache for the Whatsapp. Many media outlets understood that the app would now require data sharing with Facebook, something that has actually been happening since 2016. The company took too long to “prevent the spread of incorrect news and rumors”, undermining confidence in the messenger and opening way to Signal and Telegram.
WhatsApp requires data exchange with Facebook since 2016
This is the relevant excerpt:
That 30-day period ended in 2016, when WhatsApp had 1 billion users; now there are more than 2 billion. And at the time, the terms made this integration explicit: “we became part of the Facebook family of companies in 2014; as part of this family, WhatsApp receives and shares data with other members ”.
Among the examples, the company said: “Facebook and other companies in the same group can use data from WhatsApp to make suggestions (for example, from friends, contacts or interesting content) and show relevant offers and ads”. None of that has changed in the past five years.
Negative reaction to WhatsApp
WhatsApp shares data with Facebook such as your phone number (not the address book), mobile phone information (such as the operating system) and your IP address. The company goes on to say that “your messages are encrypted so that we or third parties cannot read them”; end-to-end encryption, which uses the Signal protocol, has not changed. However, many users were under the impression that the messenger would reveal their private conversations.
For me, the negative reaction to WhatsApp came from a combination of factors:
- countless news brought the misleading title that WhatsApp would suspend users that they did not accept the exchange of data with Facebook, something that was mandatory since 2016 – this was repeated so many times that it ended up being accepted as true;
- WhatsApp was associated with negative image that several people have of Facebook, after numerous controversies over privacy such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal;
- came up a possible “WhatsApp fatigue”, used in Brazil and other countries as the main (and sometimes only) form of contact between friends, relatives, customers and companies. The app is inescapable even for those who don’t like it, and this controversy gave a reason to express this frustration.
WhatsApp tries to contain damage
When WhatsApp decided to respond to the controversy, millions of people already raised doubts about the app’s reliability. The company published a FAQ guaranteeing that “WhatsApp and Facebook cannot read your messages or listen to your calls with coworkers, friends and family”.
WhatsApp also claims that it does not keep track of the people you called or sent messages to; cannot see your shared location; nor does he share his contacts with Facebook (just his cell phone number, as he has done for years).
The goal was to give more transparency about the conversations you can have with companies in the app. They will be able to store messages on Facebook hosting services so they can access them from more than one device, removing a current limitation of WhatsApp Web.
In addition, if you access a company’s catalog on WhatsApp through the Stores feature, “your shopping activities can be used to personalize your experience at the Stores and the ads you see on Facebook and Instagram”.
Telegram and Signal grow with controversy of WhatsApp
WhatsApp’s response, which should ultimately be responsible for its own reputation, took too long. Here’s what happened in the past few days:
Will all this be enough to “knock down” the messaging app? It is too early to know: Facebook has been through similar controversies but the company remains firm, earning billions each quarter. However, this certainly had some impact on WhatsApp, as they were forced to clarify the situation.