WhatsApp has faced a backlash since millions of their users around the world received its new policy update.

This outcry was caused by the belief that users were forced to hand over their data to Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company, or be kicked out of using WhatsApp.

Well, there might have been a mix-up due to varying interpretations of Facebook’s message and misconceptions around privacy policies. 

Facebook reached out to TechCabal to clarify its intentions.  It stated that “WhatsApp calls and messages remain protected by end-to-end encryption. With end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp cannot see your private chats or calls and neither can Facebook.”

It also said there are no changes to WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices with Facebook. The practices have remained the same since their last global privacy policy update in 2016.

This response highlights the fact that although WhatsApp users think they’re now being forced to share data with Facebook, it’s already been happening if they didn’t opt out in 2016.

Abina*, a Ghanaian teacher I spoke to on this issue told me, “It’s not new, almost all social media platforms do this [share data]. WhatsApp is just being a little more public/transparent about it.”

What’s driving this policy?

Facebook said this latest policy is about more transparency around what data they use and why. It’s also about providing information about how businesses can use WhatsApp to connect with their customers. But this second reason has been overlooked.

As per NYT, “Facebook uses this information to make sure WhatsApp works properly and to help a shoe company show you an ad on Facebook.”

Hence, the reason WhatsApp recently notified app users about revised privacy rules is that Facebook is making WhatsApp a place to shop for clothes, book a hotel room, and chat with an airline about a missed flight.

The policy changes happened to accommodate the possibility of business transactions involving interactions between Facebook apps. For instance, a dress you browse in WhatsApp could pop up later in your Instagram app.

While everyday casual users might not want this, to business owners or advertisers, this looks like an option they’d embrace.

Kelechi*, a Nigerian software developer and business owner commenting on this issue said, “None of these policies look insane, I guess the issue with Facebook is that you don’t know what your data would be used for. If the data is only used for better ad targeting then I really don’t see the problem.”

Finding a middle ground 

In all this talk about privacy, the bigger issue is that users do not get to choose whether or not they can share this data. Just like using private mode on your browser means you losing access to your browser history and other personalizations. 

Could there be a third option where Facebook lets people opt out of providing these details in exchange for a ‘subpar’ experience on WhatsApp? 

What do you say?

*Names changed… for privacy

Daniel Adeyemi Author

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