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WhatsApp clarifies confidentiality practices after increase in users of Signal and Telegram

WhatsApp has published a new FAQ page for its website, describing its attitude towards users’ privacy in response to widespread setbacks in the context of an upcoming privacy policy update. The core issue concerns WhatsApp’s data sharing procedures with Facebook, where many users are affected by an updated privacy policy that takes effect on February 8, will require the sharing of sensitive profile information with WhatsApp’s parent company.

That’s not true – the update has nothing to do with consumer chats or profile data, and instead the change is designed to outline how companies using WhatsApp for customer service can store logs of their chats on Facebook servers. This is something the company feels the need to disclose in its privacy policy, as it is now doing after previewing the upcoming changes to business chats back in October.

But a wave of misinformation on social media that has not been helped by Facebook̵

7;s creepy track record of privacy and its reputation for disguising changes in its various terms of service agreements has resulted in a full-blown WhatsApp setback that causes users to flee to competitors such as Signal and Telegram.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even jumped into the fray and tweeted “Use Signal” last week to his more than 42 million followers. As the controversy has grown, Signal has become one of the most downloaded apps on Android and iOS, and its verification system for registering new users has repeatedly tensed under pressure. Telegram, which is currently No. 2 behind Signal in the App Store, saw more than 25 million new users sign up within the last 72 hours.

WhatsApp leaders as well as Instagram boss Adam Mosseri and Facebook AR / VR leader Andrew “Boz” Bosworth are now trying to set the record straight, perhaps to little avail at this point.

“We want to make it clear that the policy update does not in any way affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging to a company on WhatsApp, which is optional and provides additional transparency about how we collect and use data, ”the company writes on the new FAQ page.

It also emphasizes in the FAQ that neither Facebook nor WhatsApp read users’ message logs or listen to their calls, and that WhatsApp does not store user location data or share contact information with Facebook. (It is also worth noting that data sharing with Facebook is extremely limited for European users due to stronger protection of users’ privacy in the EU.)

WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart also took to Twitter a few days ago to post a thread (later shared by Bosworth in the tweet above) that tried to cut through the confusion and explain what was actually going on.

With end-to-end encryption, we can not see your private chats or calls, nor Facebook. We are committed to this technology and committed to defending it globally, ”wrote Cathcart. “It is important for us to be clear. This update describes business communications and does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook. It does not affect how people communicate privately with friends or family, no matter where they are in the world. ”

A bit of irony in all of this is the data sharing that WhatsApp users are so eager to avoid has probably already taken place for a large majority of those who use the messaging platform. The company let users opt out of data sharing with Facebook only a short period back in 2016, two years after Facebook bought the platform.

Since then, new sign-ups and those who do not manually opt out of data sharing have had some WhatsApp information, mainly their phone number and profile name, shared with the larger social network for ad targeting and other purposes. (If you do not opt ​​out, WhatsApp says it will honor it, even after the February 8 update according to PCMag.)

If you look at the privacy labels for WhatsApp in the App Store, the labels Apple only last month began to force developers to disclose, you will see dozens of information marked as “data linked to you”, even if only a unique device ID and app usage data are listed as used for “developer advertising and marketing.” (WhatsApp publicly tried to urge Apple not to make its own first-party apps to comply with the same standards, only for Apple to respond that it actually shows privacy labels for the iOS apps it develops.)

In the forthcoming change in privacy policy, the language regarding data sharing with Facebook was changed, leading many to believe that the new mandated data sharing was a new change that could not be avoided – even though it has been happening all along. “As part of the Facebook family of businesses, WhatsApp receives information from and shares information with this family of businesses,” reads WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. “We may use the information we receive from them and they may use the information we share with them to help operate, deliver, improve, understand, customize, support and market our services and their offerings.”

This whole controversy can get chalk up to users who fail confusing media reports, jump to conclusions and then engage in scary on social media. But it is also a reality that Facebook has to contend with that the lack of trust in WhatsApp is directly related to many years of bad faith confidentiality obligations from Facebook and increasingly complex terms of service agreements that no regular, non-lawyer user can reasonably understand.

No wonder users flock to an app like Signal – run by a nonprofit and living off donations and wealthy benefactors like none other than WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton – when they feel they can no longer trust what’s really happens when they send message to their friends on their smartphone. Now Facebook and WhatsApp face a long way with transparent communication and confidence building going forward if they want to get these people back.

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