WhatsApp’s New Privacy Policy is a Big Trust Killer

Facebook WhatsApp data collection

When Facebook bought WhatsApp in 2014, the WhatsApp team promised nothing would change for its users. Fast forward to today where encrypted chat app changed its privacy policy to start sharing some information with Facebook. That feels like a betrayal to at least some users, and at a minimum it sure sounds like Facebook—the company with a reputation for playing fast and loose with our privacy—is about to have a link into our WhatsApp data.

Facebook WhatsApp data collection
WhatsApp now shares some of our user data with Facebook

When WhatsApp announced it was joining the Facebook Family, the company made it clear everything would carry on as usual. “WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently,” the company said. “There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product.”

That was important because WhatsApp’s foundation is secure, encrypted, private chats across all platforms. Anything that pushes against that, like sharing information with another company, poses a risk to maintaining that privacy and security.

The Nothing Promise

When WhatsApp announced it was being bought by Facebook, the developers said they would operate as an independent company and addressed user concerns by saying, “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.”

Users took that to mean we wouldn’t see any changes to the WhatsApp privacy policy, and Facebook wouldn’t get its hands on any of their personal information. In retrospect, that seems naive considering Facebook’s insatiable desire to know as much about us as it possibly can.

It also didn’t help that the WhatsApp team never dissuaded users from believing the privacy policy wouldn’t ever change. More damning was the company’s very explicit statement in 2009 about sharing user’s information: “We have not, we do not and we will not ever sell your personal information to anyone. Period. End of story.”

Channeling my best inner Bryan Chaffin (mostly pedantic), I have to point out WhatsApp isn’t selling any information. Instead, it’s sharing some user account info and analytics with its parent company. That’s not the same thing, although it isn’t much of a consolation.

Facebook will get user’s phone numbers and some analytic data. User’s chats are end-to-end encrypted, so their content is known only to the participants. That’s good news, but considering the overall changes, isn’t doing much to foster a sense of trust in WhatsApp.

Next up: WhatsApp’s advertising opt out

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