What is new in WhatsApp’s privacy policy that is raising eyebrows?


WhatsApp’s updated terms of service and privacy policy gives more insight into how the messaging platform will use user data and, more importantly, share it with its parent company Facebook going forward. Users have till February 8, 2021 to accept these in order to continue using the platform, reported The Indian Express.

Here’s what users need to keep in mind.

Why do I need to accept this policy?

WhatsApp updating its terms of service and privacy policy is not new. Most software services do update their services occasionally. It is standard practice that in order to continue using these services, the user accepts the new conditions and policy. This time, WhatsApp is giving a deadline of February 8, 2021 to accept the new policy or delete your account.

What are the important policy changes?

The older version of the privacy policy, used to start with the following lines: ‘Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA. Since we started WhatsApp, we’ve aspired to build our Services with a set of strong privacy principles in mind.’

Those lines are no longer part of the new privacy policy. However, WhatsApp stays end-to-end encrypted. Which means it can’t see your messages, or share it with anyone. But the new policy suggests an increasing reliance on other Facebook products.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy notes that when users rely on “third-party services or other Facebook Company Products that are integrated with our Services, those third-party services may receive information about what you or others share with them.” Examples of this kind of third-party integration include using the in-app video player to play content from a third-party platform.

WhatsApp explains that when a user relies on this, information such as IP address and the fact that you are a WhatsApp user, may be provided to the third-party in question or to another Facebook company product.

Remember when you use Google Drive or iCloud to backup your chats, these services are in effect getting access to your messages. Technically nothing has changed, except that WhatsApp is elaborating further what it means for data sharing when users rely on these third-party integrations.

It also clarifies that when someone is using “third-party services or other Facebook Company Products, their own terms and privacy policies will govern your use of those services and products.” Given that WhatsApp has integration now with features like Rooms on Facebook, this clarification might be needed for many users.

WhatsApp has also explained in great detail how they work with Facebook and its group of companies, including the kind of information which is exchanged. This includes information around “improving infrastructure and delivery systems,” safety and security around Facebook products, service experiences such as making suggestions for users, personalised content around purchases and transactions.

Finally it also mentions that the information exchange will include to improve “relevant offers and ads across the Facebook Company Products.”

Some examples given of WhatsApp-Facebook integration are the ability to pay for products on WhatsApp using Facebook Pay, which is available in the US.

What sort of hardware information is WhatsApp collecting?

WhatsApp says it is collecting new information around from your device such as “battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers (including identifiers unique to Facebook Company Products associated with the same device or account).” These were not mentioned in the previous policy.

There are also updates on deleting a WhatsApp account. What does it say?

The new privacy policy highlights that if someone only deletes the WhatsApp app from their device without using the in-app delete my account feature, then that user’s information will remain stored with the platform. So just deleting the app from your phone won’t be enough. It adds that “when you delete your account, it does not affect your information related to the groups you created or the information other users have relating to you, such as their copy of the messages you sent them.”

What about data location and storage?

WhatsApp also clearly mentions in the privacy policy that it uses Facebook’s global infrastructure and data centers, including those in the United States to store user data. This was not explicitly mentioned in the previous policy. It also states that the data in some cases will be transferred to the United States or other parts where Facebook’s affiliate companies are based, adding that “these transfers are necessary to provide the global Services set forth in our Terms.”

WhatsApp’s new policy states that even if a user does not use their location-relation features, they collect “IP addresses and other information like phone number area codes to estimate your general location (city, country).”

What does the privacy policy say about businesses interacting with users?

WhatsApp says that any businesses that users interact with may provide the platform with information as well. The policy further explains content shared with a business on WhatsApp will be visible to “several people in that business.”

It also states that some “businesses might be working with third-party service providers (which may include Facebook) to help manage their communications with their customers.”

In order to understand how the business is handling the information you share with them, WhatsApp also recommends that users read the “business’ privacy policy or contact the business directly.”

What about payments data?

Given WhatsApp has rolled out payments in India and other countries, it is not surprising to see this part of the privacy policy getting expanded further. WhatsApp says that if you use their payments services they will “process additional information about you, including payment account and transaction information.” However, WhatsApp Payments in India has its own dedicated privacy policy.


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