For WhatsApp Users and online privacy enthusiasts - A Thread.
WhatsApp made an announcement of new terms of service at the start of the year, which included some concerning small-print from parent company Facebook.
“As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies,” the new privacy policy states.
“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, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings."
The wording was pretty vague, but it seems that the content on WhatsApp chats is not yet under threat. Those are encrypted and can't be seen by anyone else.
The information it refers to is personal data, such as users' phone numbers/contacts, profile names/pictures and diagnostic data (automatically recorded for the purposes of troubleshooting problems).
Conversations should - for the time being - stay private. The only exception is WhatsApp's new features that allow people to communicate with businesses, which could be hosted by Facebook. When speaking to those contacts, messages might be stored and managed by Facebook.
Users should be notified before that happens, and given the opportunity to opt out of continuing with the conversation if they choose before they are shared with the company.
The new terms were due to start today, but they have now been pushed back until May. This is in large part due to the exodus the company has seen since announcing the new terms. The company is in damage control mode and launching a PR campaign on its commitment to privacy.
I'm heartened by the response. The enormous decline in app users is hopefully a warning to tech companies that the public is beginning to take online privacy more seriously. This stuff matters.
For those concerned about WhatsApp's direction shift, Signal has had an enormous popularity boost thanks to a shout-out from Elon Musk. It has slightly fewer features but is a good free alternative. There is also Threema, which has a small upfront charge but is subsequently free.
If you want to hear directly from WhatsApp as they try to clarify the situation, they have put together this FAQ page on their privacy policy.…

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