WhatsApp heading to share user data with Facebook but you can prevent data sharing

Revolutionary messaging service, WhatsApp has announced a major change in its privacy policy, which has recently been owned by Social media giant Facebook. Once the user accepts the new Terms and Conditions (T&Cs), user data will be shared by its parent company for multiple purposes primarily for ad-targeting.

WhatsApp has stated in its blog:

“By coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp”

Additionally, the messaging service also quoted:

“Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of”

There is also a possibility that this data could be shared with “Facebook family of companies.” This user data could also be given to Oculus Rift, another entity purchased by FB and a photo-sharing network Instagram.

As per the new T&Cs, WhatsApp will share a user’s phone number and the last time they used the service. The question arises: can any user comfortably share this personal information with a data mining tech giant?

Although there is an option to opt out but most of us just hit “I agree” tab while scrolling through the T&Cs. However, this opt out option is only for ad and product purposes.

Difference in directions- chose between privacy or data sharing?

The service once considered an epitome of privacy is now in a fix as it has to compromise on its vision. WhatsApp was known for its complete end to end encryption across service. The messaging service made many efforts earlier to retain its privacy by denying requests from authorities to share user data. However, after its acquisition by FB, it is struggling to retain its firm pro-privacy stance.

Facebook capitalizes on personal data of its users as it works on the model of interest based advertising. While WhatsApp’s business model works by charging a small subscription fee for an ad-free messaging service. Thus, a clear clash in business models!

The latter’s business model was abandoned after its acquisition by Facebook and its annual $1 fee was also discontinued. Currently, WhatsApp does not have an alternate model but it is working on new models by simultaneously sharing information with FB.

Back in 2014, at the time of acquisition, FB clearly stated that it would keep the messaging giant independent. The founder of WhatsApp, Jan Koum, also asserted:

“Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing. WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently. There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product”

This above mentioned claims by WhatsApp seem difficult to materialize as the core principle ‘privacy’ is being compromised. FB will now be linking users of social service with WhatsApp users. The social media giant will track relative usage of services versus activity on the messaging app by using the last used signal.

Considering the statement released by WhatApp, it is still unclear whether other user data will also be shared with FB. However, one cannot rule out the possibility completely. Conversely, if the user has updated the latest version of WhatApp, at least its messaging content cannot be shared. Only if the other person has also installed the latest version.

WhatsApp also makes it clear in its blog stating:

“When your messages are end-to-end encrypted, only the people you are messaging with can read them — not WhatsApp, Facebook, or anyone else”

However, the catch is whether the clash of visions between two giants can raise an eyebrow of regulators. These privacy regulations are more rigorous in Europe where Facebook has already faced various investigations regarding data protection.

We hope WhatsApp could share a list of things it will share with its owner and also what Facebook intends to do with this personal data.

Through phone number and last seen data, FB could gain access to a user’s mobile country code, mobile carrier code, screen resolution and device identifier. Therefore, this information could be used for numerous ad-targeting purposes.

Data being shared for improving experience: WhatsApp

WhatsApp while supporting its data sharing decision stated, “coordinate more and improve experiences across our services and those of Facebook and the Facebook family.” It is also giving three examples including:

 We will be able to more accurately count unique users
 We can better fight spam and abuse
 If you are a Facebook user, you might see better friend suggestions and more relevant ads on Facebook

Have a look at WhatsApp’s privacy policy as it stresses the usage of data sharing only for marketing and ad targeting purposes with Facebook:

“We joined the Facebook family of companies in 2014. As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies. 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. This includes helping improve infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our Services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities. Facebook and the other companies in the Facebook family also may use information from us to improve your experiences within their services such as making product suggestions (for example, of friends or connections, or of interesting content) and showing relevant offers and ads. However, your WhatsApp messages will not be shared onto Facebook for others to see. In fact, Facebook will not use your WhatsApp messages for any purpose other than to assist us in operating and providing our Services”

Another marketing usage of data by Facebook is its ‘Custom Audiences’ ad offering where businesses could use this and target ads on an existing customer contact list.

The primary usage of phone number by FB is to expand the friend recommendations by identifying more network of friends.

Limited opt-out

Although it is not possible for users to completely prevent data sharing but there is an option of partial opt out. This opt out option is only applicable for Facebook ad targeting and product purposes.

WhatsApp however stated that data sharing will be done only, “for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.”

The spokesperson completely denied to clarify why it is not giving an option of complete opt out. But while clarifying he commented:

“We understand people with WhatsApp accounts might want to opt out of sharing their account information to improve their Facebook experiences. They have an additional 30 days to opt out after accepting the new terms so they have time to consider their choices”

Ways to opt out to prevent Facebook ad targeting

WhatsApp has identified two ways in its blog to opt out of data sharing for Facebook ad targeting.

First way is to do the following:

1. Tap to read the full terms of service and privacy policy

2. Scroll to a control at the end of the page and un-check the option of sharing the data.

This can be done before hitting the agree button if u haven’t already agreed to the new terms and conditions.

Secondly, if you have accepted the new T&Cs without unchecking the box, then WhatsApp is giving a thirty day window. According to this option, the same choice is made by using the settings page in the application.

Follow the instructions to opt out this way: Go to Settings, then Account, then share my account info. Uncheck the box, the control displayed there within a 30 day window. If you are concerned about protecting your personal information, opt out before this limited period also expires.

Source: Techcrunch / image: GETTY IMAGES

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