Complex Made Simple

WhatsApp: A betrayal of trust?

Mobile messaging app WhatsApp announced earlier this week that it is changing its terms and conditions to allow it to share user data with Facebook, its parent company and the largest social network in the world.

The announcement caused international outrage as both companies said they were committed to keeping user information separate when the acquisition took place in 2014.

“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible,” WhatsApp’s co-founder and CEO, Jan Koum, wrote in a blog post on the website after the acquisition announcement.

“If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it. Instead, we are forming a partnership that would allow us to continue operating independently and autonomously,” he added.

This also comes as a step in the opposite direction to the path WhatsApp has been emphasising. The messaging application encrypted its conversations earlier this year, a move that made its users feel safer and more private.

The company has also evolved beyond messaging, introducing WhatsApp calls, a feature that allows users to make calls through the app.

A temporary calm

The company attempted to calm the crowds by giving users the ability to opt out of the deal, so long as they do so within 30 days of the change – even if they had initially agreed to the new terms and conditions pop-up.

This temporary resolution quickly backfired after reports surfaced highlighting that even opting out will not stop the flow of all information to Facebook. Even after opting out, some key information will still be shared and nothing can stop that, reports revealed.

According to information revealed, opting out will stop WhatsApp from sending information for ads and product experiences, but not stop all the other information from being shared, as there are other data-sharing agreements put in place between the two. All other information are not clarified, but are stated by WhatsApp as for “other purposes.”

Opting out also does not stop the potential ads we might be getting on the messaging app. While it did state that these won’t be intrusive, it did not clarify the form in which it will be showing the ads.

Yet WhatsApp has announced its intention to include businesses in the conversation.

“As we announced earlier this year, we want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam…  We want to test these features in the next several months, but need to update our terms and privacy policy to do so,” read a recent WhatsApp blog post published before the change in terms and conditions.

“Even as we coordinate more with Facebook in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else. We won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and we still won’t sell, share, or give your phone number to advertiser,” the statement added.

WhatsApp has not yet made an official statement about the consumer feedback and the related news that have come out.