Should we be paranoid about big tech companies sharing our data?
This announcement caused a mass exodus of WhatsApp users to alternative services such as Signal and Telegram, who between them gained more than 30 million users. It caused WhatsApp to delay the rollout of their new terms which were scheduled for 8 February, in order to run a damage limitation campaign and to more clearly explain to users the changes they were making.
The new terms of service are mainly focused on a set of features that allow businesses to connect shops on WhatsApp with Facebook, which was the main reason for concern as this level of data sharing is unprecedented.
“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” WhatsApp said in an update posted to its site. A spokesperson from WhatsApp said “People want to know that WhatsApp and Facebook cannot read or listen to personal conversations as they’re end-to-end encrypted. After that, people want to know that WhatsApp does not keep logs of who everyone is messaging and that we do not share contact lists with Facebook. This is our global approach to protecting people’s most private information and that’s not changing.”
So implementation of the new terms have now been delayed until 15 May.
So what has changed since January? Well, fundamentally nothing. But it has made a concession of sorts. WhatsApp will allow limited access to its services for users who do not agree to the new terms of service. From 15 May, those users will no longer be able to send or read messages, but will continue to be able to receive calls and notifications for a “short time”. Eventually, users will be cut off from services unless they accept the new terms.
According to TechCrunch, users will be able to receive some contacts for a few weeks after the 15 May deadline. The knowledge that there are unanswered messages may be enough for many to take the leap and accept the new terms of service after all.
Ironically, in some ways WhatsApp is more privacy-focused than its competitor Telegram. WhatsApp applies end-to-end encryption by default to every chat (which stops them from being able to access your messages), except those between users and large businesses.
Telegram, however, only turns on end-to-end encryption for “secret chats”, an option that users must actively select for each individual contact.
So will you jump or will you stay? The proof will be in the pudding after 15 May.
Louise was born in the Netherlands and has lived in Australia since 1987. She has experienced the digital age since its inception and has always been involved in information technology in one way or another. She now owns her own web site design agency and runs this from her home in Tasmania, which she shares with her labrador, Shilo. She loves the ocean and everything around and in it and one day hopes to publish a coffee table book and mobile app on Tasmanian shells.
Louise is a founding member of The Silver Life.