WhatsApp is to share user data with its owner Facebook as a condition of its use going forward, in a move sure to worry privacy advocates.
Users of the popular messaging app have begun receiving messages asking them to agree to new terms of service and privacy policies.
The changes are compulsory and are due to take effect in a month’s time, on February 8. Users will not be able to continue using WhatsApp if they don’t agree to the new terms and conditions.
For years it seemed WhatsApp user data would be safe from Facebook use, despite some major concerns since it was absorbed into the social networking giant in 2014.
In March 2018, the UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) concluded a two-year investigation into the data-sharing practices of WhatsApp.
WhatsApp at the time signed a public pledge not to share any user’s data with Facebook after the ICO ruled that doing so would be illegal under the data protection act and before the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018.
This change prompted outrage among WhatsApp users and European regulators.
Matters were not helped by the fact that WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum had denied at the time of the acquisition in 2014 that WhatsApp would have to follow Facebook’s privacy policies.
Indeed, such was the controversy that Facebook had to suspend in November 2016 data sharing between its social network and WhatsApp across the European Union.
That same month WhatsApp also suspended such data sharing activity in the UK.
But the pressure was growing, and in 2018 the other co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton, admitted he had clashed with Facebook management over its attempts to wring money from its popular messaging app.
Acton also admitted at the time that he had sold the privacy of WhatsApp users, and disagreements happened between him and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg before he left the firm in November 2017.
He was followed shortly after by Jan Koum in May 2018.
But now Hacker News has reported that WhatsApp will disable people’s accounts if they don’t share their data with Facebook.
The type of user data that could be shared includes WhatsApp account registration, telephone numbers, transaction data, service-related information, interaction information, mobile device information, IP address, and ‘other information identified…’
WhatsApp however told Silicon UK that there are no changes to WhatApp’s data sharing practices in the UK and Europe.
“For the avoidance of any doubt, it is still the case that WhatsApp does not share European region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or advertisements,” the spokesperson added.