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Take It Or Leave: WhatsApp's New Privacy Policy

april 21, 2021 | internet privacy
Users will not be able to read or send messages if they don't accept the new policy

Rarely does a data privacy policy update make headlines, but WhatsApp's new changes taking effect next month have garnered a lot of attention. The changes do no impact personal messages, but individual users must accept the changes to continue using the service. Confused? You are not alone.

"We've extended the effective date to May 15th. If you haven't accepted by then, WhatsApp will not delete your account. However, you won't have full functionality of WhatsApp until you accept. For a short time, you'll be able to receive calls and notifications, but won't be able to read or send messages from the app," reads one company post.

The big blow lies deep in that last clause: users will not be able to read or send messages if they don't accept the policy. WhatsApp's 2 billion users can still make phone calls for a brief time. A very short time.

Users have been notified in-app about the change revealed last January, but let's face it. Reading privacy policies is viewed as a type of slow torture by many. Still, this one clamors for your attention.

A Never-Ending Dance

There's always been an awkward tango between WhatsApp and its parent, Facebook (FB), revolving around data privacy. One fundamental conflict has been the information the messaging app would share with FB after the social media giant acquired it in 2014. When the purchase occurred, officials insisted nothing would change regarding privacy. Now, it wants permission to share more with FB, and it's not optional.

WhatsApp stated, "The changes are related to optional business features on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. The privacy and security of your personal messages and calls do not change. They are protected by end-to-end encryption, and WhatsApp and Facebook cannot read or listen to them."

Transparency and end-to-end encryption are terrific, but your usage of the app generates a lot more information than what's in your messages. FB is in the money-making business, and WhatsApp has yet to add much to the bottom line. This update marks a move into e-commerce designed to boost revenues. So, the privacy documents will change and will no doubt continue to evolve. Just make sure you understand what you're offering to share. Will it be safe from data breaches like the recent Facebook file dump that hit over half a billion users worldwide?

Breaches are probably not Mark Zuckerberg's favorite topic these days. Facebook's CEO took some heat in early April after 533 million FB data files were dumped online. That leak exposed his cellphone number, too, and revealed his account with Signal, a competitor of WhatsApp. Some security researchers found that a bit ironic as WhatsApp adopts this bold new stance to share more of the collected data. Maybe it's just for market research?

Next Steps

You can still accept the updates after May 15th but don't dally too long. The company embraces a separate inactive account policy that deletes dormant files after 120 days. Kudos to WhatsApp for the attempt to limit data in its possession, but this is a tight timeframe for users who've missed or ignored prior update notifications.

While WhatsApp hopes you'll stay, there are ways to export your chat history. You'll need to request an account info report. You must act before May 15th to tap this option.

The messenger app's Help Center will also detail how to delete accounts but know that such a move is permanent. You can't reverse it later. The company states this removal "erases your message history, removes you from all of your WhatsApp groups, and deletes your WhatsApp backups."

Meanwhile, competing encrypted message apps have multiplied in the past few years. One of WhatsApp's original founders, who sold the firm to FB, launched the Signal message app in 2018. Telegram has also surged in popularity. In any case, it's all about monetizing records, and you're providing the info they require.

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