WhatsApp has delayed the deadline by which users must agree to new terms of service after “confusion” around its notification.
The Facebook-owned service originally gave its 2 billion users until 8 February to agree to updated terms, but they now have until 15 May to consent to the terms or lose access to WhatsApp.
The company said it would use the additional three weeks to “clear up misinformation” around its data sharing policies and to give users more time to review its terms.
“No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8,” WhatsApp said in a blog post.
The company said widespread concern around its data-sharing policies with Facebook were unfounded.
“This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook,” it said, adding that personal conversations and shared locations are encrypted end-to-end and can’t be accessed by WhatsApp or Facebook.
It said the terms update was largely aimed at giving users new options for interacting with businesses and providing more clarity about how it collects and uses data.
While WhatsApp’s data-sharing policy may not be changing, the company’s notification may be the first time many of those users became aware of that policy, which has been in place since 2016.
The policy allows Facebook to access a WhatsApp user’s phone number and other registration information, such as email address, as well as information about the user’s phone, the user’s IP address and any payments or financial transactions made over WhatsApp.
This data-sharing terms don’t apply in the UK or the EU, which have different privacy laws.
In 2016 WhatsApp gave existing users a limited time to opt out of the data-sharing arrangement, and if users opted out at that time their choice will continue to be respected.
However, the ability to opt out expired in 2016 and new users since then outside the UK and the EU have automatically agreed to have some data shared with Facebook.
Some users are evidently uncomfortable with this, and WhatsApp’s notification has prompted a massive rise in downloads of competitors such as Telegram and Signal, with the latter hiring more staff to deal with the surge.
Signal and Telegram respectively saw 17.8 million and 15.7 million downloads during the week of 5 to 12 January, with Signal topping Apple’s App Store in 40 countries and the Google Play Store in 18.
WhatsApp saw downloads fall by more than 2 million during the week of 5 to 12 January compared to the previous week, declining to 10.6 million.
Facebook has increasingly come under fire in recent years over its privacy and competition practices, and was last month was hit by two antitrust lawsuits from the US Federal Trade Commission and a group of US states.
The lawsuit by US states attorney general more specifically alleged that Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp violated antitrust laws and should be reversed.
Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion (£14bn).