June 13, 2021

WhatsApp Urges Users to Review and Accept New Terms and Conditions

WhatsApp is assuring people that despite crossing the deadline of May 15 to accept a new privacy policy, users will not lose functionality or access to their accounts because of the update, but will receive “persistent” reminders of to review and accept the changes. In January this year, the company announced an update to its privacy policy that would allow more data to be shared with Facebook, which acquired WhatsApp in February 2014 for about USD 16 billion. This was seen by many as an infringement on the security and privacy of their information. 

For the last several weeks, WhatsApp has displayed a notification providing more information about the new terms and conditions. In an update, the app said it will continue to remind people to review and accept the changes. After a period of several weeks, the reminder will eventually become persistent. Once this happens, users can expect to encounter limited functionality until they accept the updates, but this will not happen simultaneously for all users. 

If users do not accept the changes following the repeated reminders, they will initially not be able to access their chat lists, but will still be able to answer incoming phone and video calls. If notifications are enabled, people will still be able to tap on them to read or respond to a message or call back for a missed phone or video call. However, after a few weeks of limited functionality, people won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to their phone.

The Policy

In January, users began receiving a pop-up notification from WhatsApp detailing a few points related to the new privacy policy with links to the new terms. It only offered two options of “accept” or “not now.” There was no option to reject the new policy. In fact, users were told that they would have to accept the new terms by March 8 to continue using WhatsApp.

The notification said that the key updates include more information about:

  • WhatsApp’s service and how the company processes data.
  • How businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats.

However, some users said they received a pop-up that mentioned a third point as well, which said the update would include more Information about how WhatsApp partners with Facebook to offer integrations across Facebook company products.

The previous policy allowed users to opt-out of having data shared with Facebook, as long as they did so in the first 30 days after accepting the terms and conditions. However, with the latest policy update, users were not given a choice of how much data they would prefer to share with Facebook.

Following the backlash, WhatsApp extended the previous deadline of May 8 to February 15. 

Notably, this policy change does not apply to people in the UK and Europe, where different policy laws are in place.

In the latest update to these policies, WhatsApp clarified some of the concerns people have about data-sharing with Facebook. “Your personal conversations are still protected by end-to-end encryption, which means no one outside of your chats, not even WhatsApp or Facebook, can read or listen to them,” it said.

The two main changes WhatsApp said it will make are:

  1. Talking to businesses more conveniently as compared to calls or email. Users would have the choice to block or remove businesses from their contact lists if they do decide to chat with businesses at all. The company said these businesses may use Facebook as a technology provider to manage some of the responses on their behalf. The chats will be clearly labelled to make users aware of when that happens.
  2. Providing more detail on how WhatsApp manages user data. The company said it added more detail to certain sections of its Privacy Policy and added new sections, as well as simplifying the layout to make it easier for users to navigate.

The first update means that businesses using secure hosting services from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers may use some user information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook. Users may also see an ad on Facebook with an option to message a business using WhatsApp. Facebook may use the way people interact with these ads to personalize the ads they see on Facebook.

WhatsApp has said before that it does not share contact lists, messages, groups or call logs with parent company Facebook. However, it does share certain user data, including:

  • Phone numbers and other information provided on registration, like names etc.
  • Make, model and mobile company of user’s phones
  • Internet protocol (IP) addresses
  • Financial transactions made over WhatsApp

WhatsApp Users Resort to its Competitors

After WhatsApp’s initial announcement, users began installing apps from competitors of the Facebook-owned company, such as Signal and Telegram. BBC said that, according to data from analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw worldwide downloads totaling 246,000 the week before WhatsApp announced the change on January 4. The week after the announcement, this amount rose to a whopping 8.8 million. In India, downloads rose from 12,000 to 2.7 million, while in the UK and US, downloads rose from 7,400 and 63,000 to 191,000 and 1.1 million, respectively.

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, also recommended Signal to his followers. 

Similarly, Telegram, another end-to-end encrypted messaging platform, was downloaded about 6.5 million times for the week beginning December 28, 2020, to 11 million over the following week. During the same period, WhatsApp’s global downloads shrank to 9.2 million from 11.3 million.

It remains to be seen how heavily these new updates will impact WhatsApp’s popularity. Despite all the controversy, it continues to be one of the most used messaging platforms, with global downloads totaling about 5.6 billion since its launch in 2014.

“It’s going to be difficult for rivals to break user habits, and WhatsApp will continue to be one of the world’s most popular and widely used messaging platforms,” Craig Chapple, mobile insights strategist at Sensor Tower, told BBC.

Written by

Romessa Nadeem is a Project Coordinator at Media Matters for Democracy, which runs the Digital Rights Monitor.

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