WhatsApp Will Share Data With Facebook, Despite User Wishes

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.

Privacy background

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.

The ICO inquiry had been undertaken after privacy concerns were first raised by campaigners when Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014.

The ICO investigation began in August 2016 when Facebook controversially decided to update WhatsApp’s terms of service and privacy policy to include sharing data with the social network.

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.

Compulsory changes

But now Hacker News has reported that WhatsApp will disable people’s accounts if they don’t share their data with Facebook.

These changes seem to be a development of WhatsApp privacy policy changes announced in July last year, but with the addition of user account information being shared with Facebook when users interact with businesses.

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.

“There are no changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices in the European region (including UK) arising from the updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told Silicon UK.

“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.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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