WhatsApp is “updating its terms and privacy policy”. What does the notice you received mean?

The first communication arrived beginning of January 2021 on all users’ devices. By clicking “I accept” gives users give the green light to the new terms of use, applicable from Monday 15 May 2021.

A notice has appeared on the WhatsApp accounts of about two billion users worldwide entitled “WhatsApp is updating its terms and privacy policy“, it is nothing more than the platform’s way of asking subscribers to accept the new terms of use. No surprises, the entire update will revolve around the impossibility for users to refuse to share their account information with Facebook (whether you have a FB account or not) in order to receive personalised advertising on the well-known social network.

This is demonstrated first of all by the substantial changes that will be made to the privacy policy. The new version, for example, will no longer include the paragraph specifying that users “may choose not to share their WhatsApp account information with Facebook to improve their experiences with Facebook ads and products“.

DIGITALABS: WhatsApp warns users about updating its terms and privacy policy

What’s new

For the record, it is already possible to share the data affected by the change with Facebook, which includes, as the FAQs state, “account registration information (such as phone number), transaction data, service-related information, information about how you interact with other users (including businesses) when using our Services, information about your mobile device, and your IP address. It may also include other information indicated in the “Information We Collect” section of the Privacy Policy or collected with your notice or consent.” The difference from the past will be that sharing this information will change from optional to mandatory, or you will not be able to access WhatsApp (and your account will be automatically deleted after 120 days of inactivity).

The purpose of the change is explained in the new Terms of Service, which have also been largely updated. The new “Affiliated Companies” paragraph informs us that “WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, Facebook Companies” in part to “provide integrations that allow you to connect your WhatsApp experience with other Facebook Company Products.

Wider project

Given WhatsApp’s absolute leadership in the field of instant messaging, a mass flight of its subscribers to other services is unlikely. On New Year’s Eve, for example, the platform carried more than 1.4 billion voice and video calls worldwide, the highest figure ever recorded for a single day, and an increase of around 50% compared to last year. It is therefore impossible that a significant proportion of its more than 2 billion total users would decide to stay out of communication with friends and family in protest.

The profit for the company will be twofold: on the one hand, it will come from the sale of ultra-targeted ads on Facebook, and on the other, it will receive a percentage of each transaction made on WhatsApp (on the model of what already happens with normal credit card payments).

> Check out Telegram & Signal viable alternatives to WhatsApp by Cnet.

WhatsApp’s new terms of use have made many people turn up their noses. The new mandatory terms and conditions of use are in fact the final retraction of the promise made to users in 2014, in the aftermath of Facebook’s acquisition of the service: “According to the agreement reached,” it was announced, “WhatsApp will continue to operate independently“. As of 8 February, this will no longer be the case, as the privacy policy will remove the option to “choose not to share your WhatsApp account information with Facebook to improve your experience with Facebook ads and products”.

DIGITALABS: WhatsApp warns users about updating its terms and privacy policy

WhatsApp has an incredibly large ‘network effect’ compared to its competitors, which guarantees it a very high level of loyalty from its user base. Because however much a messaging app may appeal to our taste, if we find few contacts on it, it will be almost completely useless.

The second in the ranking, Telegram, does not even have half as many. It is therefore easy to understand how unlikely it is, to say the least, that a significant proportion of users would decide to abandon the main network simply in protest against the new terms. All the more so if, as is always the case in these cases, authorisation is all too often given without even going into the details of the notice. Knowing the main alternatives to WhatsApp available in digital stores, however, can always be useful.

Telegram is the second most popular messaging App. Launched in 2013 by brothers Nikolaj and Pavel Durov and partially open source, like WhatsApp it is completely free. However, it does not rely on the memory of users’ devices to store data, but uses a cloud with instant synchronisation. This allows it to be used on multiple devices and to send an unlimited amount of content (up to 2 gigs each) for maximum versatility.

It is also important to emphasise that access to the service does not require the display of a telephone number: a great advantage in terms of confidentiality.

There are two types of chat: classic (with client-server encryption) and secret (with end-to-end encryption). The former can be viewed on all devices, while the latter – more secure – can only be viewed on the device from which they were initiated. The latter include the possibility of sending messages that self-destruct.

The absolute security of conversations is the strength of Signal, a free and open source software managed by a non-profit foundation. In addition to end-to-end encryption, Signal uses other state-of-the-art encryption protocols. Unlike both WhatsApp and Telegram, it also stores very little metadata (i.e. information about the date and time of sending and receiving conversations, of a call, of the last access to the app, and so on).

It is therefore not surprising that its main fans include the deep throat of “Datagate” Edward Snowden, Elon Musk and even the European Commission. Furthermore, you may use a Swiss Solution called Threema, used by the Swiss Army.

Yes to new terms of use or the app will be unusable as of 15 May!

On Saturday 15 May, WhatsApp new terms and conditions of use, which have been circulating to all users since the beginning of January for approval. The news was not received without controversy and perplexity, but then faded away, especially for Europe, in fact, thanks to the GDPR (the European Regulation for the Protection of Personal Data) users from EU countries will not have big differences in the treatment of their data. The latest news coming directly from the company, however, returns to cause discussion: in the Faq of the WhatsApp website, in fact, a new specification has appeared: the App, it says, could block if the new terms of use have not been accepted.

digitaLABS: WhatsApp warns users about updating its terms and privacy policy

Existing but unusable account

In fact, the account will not be completely deactivated, but it will be impossible to do many things with the chat, including writing and receiving messages, so in practice WhatsApp will be unusable. In this way, the messaging App leaves users with no alternative: either they will accept the terms, or they will no longer be able to use it. In addition, 15 May is the last date available to download chat conversations to Android or iPhone devices.

Check out how to save, export or delete your WhatsApp chat history

What will change?

The difference from the past concerns the sharing of data such as phone numbers, transactions, information about services and how you interact with other users. In the terms of use, a “Affiliates” paragraph informs you that “WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, Facebook Companies” to also “provide integrations that allow you to connect your WhatsApp experience with other Facebook Company Products, to ensure safety, security, and integrity in Facebook Company Products, and to improve the advertisements and user experience related to products within Facebook Company Products.

This article was written following the lines of Alessandro Vinci and Cecilia Mussi, journalists @Corriere Della Sera

My opinion is that the law of the biggest TechData market always win. Many users will think they can’t cope without it, others are too lazy to understand the context, other will have the usual wrong reasoning “I have nothing to hide“.

Finally, many users will think that migrating from one App to another might cause them “losses“… the usual fear of the unknown or, as usual, thinking that another application, especially an Open-Source one, is not comparable and does not do the job compared to the “Master”. Many people are still reticent.

If I don’t use WhatsApp how can I communicate with my friends ? I What about my Groups?  I use another App, not all my friends have it… following the basic reasoning: If I’m not visible on Google no one will find me, if a hotel is not visible on Booking no one will take reservations with me, etc. etc.” which is somehow true.

DIGITALABS: WhatsApp warns users about updating its terms and privacy policy

What compromise?

WhatsApp has an obligation to comply with the GDPR which stipulates acceptance of advertising, etc. The final user can manage these option into his smartphone or desktop settings in order to deactivate tracking, etc. This is already the case of many major Apps,  many connected object (IoT) like smart tv for example (allow or not Google Analytics, etc.), as well in all major websites for the cookies policy compliance. Nevertheless, not all features can be deactivated and more data will be exchanged automatically with FB. The  situation remains unclear.

You may migrate little by little on others Chats by keeping your WhatsApp contacts (by saving its contents and then deleting all your chat history), solicit your friends by spreading the word of other very well conceived Apps and finally use other NSA-FB non compatible Apps for sharing you private information and use WhatsApp only for non-private and non sensitive communications (especially if you have groups). Furthermore, with people migrating from one chat to another, Telegram & Signal are constantly improving their services.

Check out how to move Chat History from Other Apps

The business of intermediary platforms is getting bigger and bigger. Therefore, it would be good to have a digital awareness to understand the Pros and Cons of each choice we make. If not, the licit monopoly in an ultra-liberal big-tech market where the sheep have no choice but to follow the “crowd” will always prevail.

Since February 18 2022, millions of European users have been receiving a communication from WhatsApp. The European Commission, included a clear warning about people’s privacy. They want FaceBook to provide more details on how they use your data. The hottest topic is precisely that of European citizens’ data, in particular how they are transmitted overseas. Among the precedents of this clash already hangs the EU’s record fine of 225 million for violating European privacy laws, precisely because of the lack of clarity in the use of data, and the threatening reaction of Meta, which had considered the possibility of withdrawing WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram from Europe.

What happens when you delete your WhatsApp account ?

They purely “hate you”… 🙁

DIGITALABS: WhatsApp warns users about updating its terms and privacy policy

PM/CTO @DIGITALABS, May 11, 2021.