WhatsApp's new privacy policy: here's what it means for users

WhatsApp is asking its users to agree to share their personal information or have their accounts deactivated

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WhatsApp’s new privacy policy is being met with criticism because the social networking app is asking its users to share personal information with its parent company – Facebook – or have their accounts deactivated.

Users are being told about the updated privacy policy through an in-app alert, which directs them to agree to the new conditions. For now, users can opt to ignore the alert. However, that will not be the case after February 8.

"After this date, you'll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp," the alert reads. Users can visit the app's Help Centre if they prefer to have their accounts deleted, it added.

Many have taken to social media to express their worries, especially because WhatsApp previously seemed committed to privacy and security with its encrypted messaging service.

Even Tesla founder Elon Musk, who recently became the world’s richest man, advised people to seek an alternative to the service. “Use Signal,” he tweeted, referring to the cross-platform encrypted messaging service that is run by a non-profit. Others are directing people to use the app Telegram instead.

So do users really need to be cautious regarding WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy? The short answer is: yes.

A deeper look into the app’s new terms include an abstract of how WhatsApp intends to share user information with Facebook.

“As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies,” the policy reads.

“We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customise, support and market our services and their offerings.”

However, it seems that chats within the app will not be shared with Facebook, at least not yet. As the chats are encrypted, neither Facebook nor WhatsApp can view conversations even if they wanted to.

So what kind of information will WhatsApp share with its parent company?

Well, everything from phone numbers, mobile device information and IP addresses, to diagnostic data, profile pictures and names.

The updated policy will also allow the company to also gather information about your phone’s hardware, such as battery level and service status.

We collect device and connection-specific information when you install, access, or use our services

“We collect device and connection-specific information when you install, access, or use our services. This includes information such as hardware model, operating system information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers,” WhatsApp said.

The policy will also allow sharing your interactions with a business account on WhatsApp to “several people in that business”. The move is being regarded as a possible monetisation strategy because WhatsApp has more than 50 million business accounts.

The policy states that “businesses might be working with third-party service providers (which may include Facebook) to help manage their communications with their customers”. Users are advised to stop interacting with business accounts if they prefer their information not be shared with them.