Regulators And Watchdogs Are Coming Down Hard On WhatsApp's New Privacy Policy

By 05:29 Thu, 05 Aug 2021 Comments

WhatsApp's recent decision to share user data with parent company Facebook is quickly turning into a full blown privacy scandal. If you are not in the know about the move, it basically comes down to a change in terms and conditions that will enable sharing some WhatsApp info, like online status and your phone number with Facebook. According to official statements, this will assist Facebook improve its friends suggestions and ad accuracy, among other things and will not affect the encryption and protection of WhatsApp conversations.

Both aforementioned parties and their common leadership, likely hoped that this first privacy policy change since the instant messenger's acquisition four years ago would go by unnoticed. However, both UK's information commissioner and third-party organizations have found major faults in the way the go is executed and are now tightening the grip around the social network titan.

Elizabeth Denham, the currently appointed UK ICO, commented on the matter today.

We’ve been informed of the changes. Organisations do not need to acquire prior approval from the ICO to change their approaches, but they do need to stay within data protection laws. We are looking into this. … “The changes WhatsApp and Facebook are making will affect a lot of people. Some might consider it’ll give them a better service, others may be concerned by the lack of control. Our role is to pull back the curtain on things like this, ensuring that companies are being transparent with the public about how their personal data is being shared, and protecting consumers by making sure the law is being followed

And if you are wondering what the problem in particular is, well, the way in which the privacy policy change is being presented and handled is somewhat suspicious and borderline illegal in some aspects. For starters, back when WhatsApp joined the Facebook empire, a promise was made that this wouldn't affect its privacy policy and that it would not share or sell "personally identifiable information".

This is actually just one of the points an organization called the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) claims violates the Federal Trade Commission consent order withing the US. According to the latter, a company must obtain opt-in consent before asking a user to agree to recent terms and conditions. This is a direct stab at What'sApp's current approach, which offer users a 30 day opt-out option, which indeed is not exactly the same thing. So, Facebook seems to be under a lot of heat from two major markets now with probably more EU distress still on the horizon.

And frankly, even if you think that the UK ICO and EPIC are nitpicking and Zuckerberg really plans to stand by his best intentions to assist users better "communicate with business" and so forth, it is still undeniable that the recent privacy policy is a small confusing at best and likely intentionally so. To access the aforementioned opt-out checkbox, you have to open the full terms-of-service. Otherwise it is not visible. Also, one part of the text reads as follows:

Share my WhatsApp account information with Facebook to improve my Facebook ads and products experiences. Your chats and phone number will not be shared onto Facebook regardless of this setting.

What this actually means is that Facebook won't be sharing you chats and phone number publicly, although it will still haged record of the latter internally. And as far as the chats par goes, well, we just have to hold their word for it. In our opinion, that could have easily be phrased better.

Tell us your thoughts on the issue in the comment section.

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