What’s creating so much fuss around WhatsApp’s new privacy policy?

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There might be hardly a day in our life, without loading WhatsApp at least once in our device. In that concern, for such an app, which has millions of users over the globe, changing the privacy policy is not a silly thing to be taken for granted.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy is being met with criticism as the social networking app is asking its users to share personal information with its parent company Facebook or have their accounts deactivated. Users are being alerted of the updated privacy policy through an in-app alert, which directs them to agree to the new conditions. For now, users can opt to ignore the alert without needing to agree to the terms. However, that won’t be the case after Monday, February 8.

“After this date, you’ll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp,” the alert reads, adding that users can visit the app’s Help Centre if they prefer to have their accounts deleted.

Many have taken to social media sites such as Twitter to express their worries, especially since the app previously seemed committed to privacy and security with its encrypted messaging service.

Even Tesla founder Elon Musk, who recently cemented himself as the world’s richest man, took to Twitter to advise people to seek an alternative to the service. “Use Signal,” he wrote, referring to the cross-platform encrypted messaging service that is run by a non-profit. Others are also directing people to use the app Telegram instead.

So do users really need to be cautious regarding WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy? Well, the short answer is: yes. A deeper look into the app’s new terms include an abstract of how WhatsApp intends to share user information with Facebook.

“As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies,” the policy reads. “We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customise, support, and market our services and their offerings.”

However, it seems that chats within the app will not be shared with Facebook, at least not yet. As the chats are encrypted, neither Facebook nor WhatsApp can view conversations even if they wanted to.

As per the policy, everything from phone numbers, mobile device information, and IP addresses, to diagnostic data, profile pictures and names. The updated policy will also allow the company to also gather information about your phone’s hardware, such as battery level and service status.

“We collect device and connection-specific information when you install, access, or use our services. This includes information such as hardware model, operating system information, 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,” WhatsApp said in a statement.

The policy will also allow sharing your interactions with a business account on WhatsApp to “several people in that business.” The move is seen as a possible monetisation strategy as WhatsApp has more than 50 million business accounts using the service.

The policy states that “businesses might be working with third-party service providers (which may include Facebook) to help manage their communications with their customers”. Users are advised to stop interacting with business accounts if they prefer their information not be shared with them.