This past August, Whatsapp issued a statement that informed users of a change in their terms of service and privacy policy. This message had to do with their future plans now that they’ve partnered with Facebook and how this would result in the possibility of sharing information with the social network. This, obviously, did not go down well with users or organizations. Consequently, the issue resulted in a letter sent by the the well-respected European Data Protection Working Party, urging the CEO of WhatsApp to stop the operation in Europe until it could be thoroughly studied and verified as legal.

An option that turned out to be mandatory

Toward the end of August, without warning, when users opened the official WhatsApp client, a message appeared informing users of the mentioned change in the app’s terms of use. The message asked for consent to share information from your account in order to, according to them, improve your “Facebook ads and products experiences.” You could accept or decline, but either way, you could continue using the app, giving you up to 30 days to decide and letting you postpone the decision during this time.

whatsapp-disclaimer

One month later, things got complicated. On September 26, it became mandatory and necessary to accept the conditions in order to continue using the app. The problem is, you no longer had the box to uncheck if you didn’t want to share your information with Facebook. If you put off the decision all this time, then you were left without an option. 

whatsapp-screenshots

The authorities take a stand

The consequences were immediate. Just one day after the change in conditions, the Data Protection Agency in Hamburg issued and administrative order with the intention of preventing the collection of information. Even though names and numbers are not shared, other things like your smartphone model, usage time, screen resolution, and wireless service provider are included in the batch of sent information. Given WhatsApp and Facebook are independent entities, there’s a lot of legal aspects that interfere with the jurisdiction  of many countries involved. Many governments have realized this.

In Spain, the Spanish Data Protection Agency also shared their intentions to conduct a thorough investigation about the matter. All of these movements have lead to the combined drafting of a specific request on the behalf of a group of various European countries (the so-called G29)  to Jan Koum, current CEO of WhatsApp, dated October 27, 2016. This movement has had an effect, considering that Facebook has indefinitely suspended the crossover of information with WhatsApp until the situation is clarified. 

Much ado about nothing

Beyond the information provided here, let’s get a few things straight. The idea of WhatsApp sharing certain information with Facebook is like a grain of sand in the desert. Google takes information about your browsing habits on a daily basis, along with other services from third-parties that we don’t even understand. All this controversy could just come from the attractive idea of stopping a big company from getting away with something. It could at least serve as some attention given to how businesses use our private information illegally. What’s clear is that when all is said and done, all this talk isn’t going to affect users nearly at all, aside from a few ads that know you have a Samsung smartphone and you tend to chat before bed. But even your neighbor knows that.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. They still collect all your metadata. And the only reason they don’t user data with Facebook is their fear of legal consequences. If you care about privacy, you should probably switch to a service like Threema or Signal.

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