WhatsApp delays privacy update over user ‘confusion’ and backlash about Facebook data sharing

A great deal of confusion and backlash from users of WhatsApp over fears that the messaging app could share a wide range of user data with its parent company Facebook forced the messaging app to delay an announced privacy policy update about sharing of user data.

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” WhatsApp said in a blog post over the weekend.

The proposed privacy updates were specifically related to those features that are used by users to message and interact with businesses accounts on WhatsApp. Faceboo, the largest social media company of the world, had said last year that its “secure hosting infrastructure” could be used by businesses that use WhatsApp for storing and managing their chats with their customers.

This feature includes allowing the business to view the contents of the messages between it and a user as well as using such information for its own marketing purpose including advertsing the business on Facebook.

Starting February 8, WhatsApp had previously stated that all existing users of the messaging service would be prompted to accept the updated terms for them to continue to using the service. However that date has now been delayed by Facebook to allow people to closely review and accept the terms of the privacy update. The social media company added the no account of any user would be suspended on February 8.  

The company said that WhatsApp users would be allowed to “gradually” closely review the policy update “at their own pace” prior to the new business options are made available to the users on May 15.

WhatsApp said there was confusion caused by the privacy updates. Many users were made to believe that Whatsapp would share a large cache of user data with Facebook, including the messages sent and received on the messaging app.

There was concern among many users that the new updated privacy policy was an indication that there would be widespread sharing of user data between WhatsApp and Facebook. However that is not the actual case, according ot WhatsApp. User data such as phone numbers have been shared by WhatsApp with Facebook since 2016. But since the messages on WhatsApp are encrypted, it is not possible for either WhatsApp or Facebook to view the contents of the messages. The messaging app is not bringing in any changes to this policy in the latest update.  

However, the growing concerns about their privacy prompted a large section of the users to try out rival messaging apps Signal and Telegram. Boht the apps reported heavy surge in their download. Both these apps claim to be completely user privacy-focused.

An sudden increase in user numbers and downloads resulted in an outage of Signal on Saturday.

Signal said it was “adding new servers and extra capacity at a record pace every single day” last week and the app came back online on Sunday.

(Adapted from CNBC.com)


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