WhatsApp shares more data with Facebook than it claims: We break down the details

By Siddharth Chauhan | Published on 14 Jan 2021
HIGHLIGHTS

Here's a detailed breakdown of WhatsApp's claim on privacy policy

WhatsApp can collect precise location information of users

WhatsApp Businesses can use information to target ads for marketing purposes

WhatsApp shares more data with Facebook than it claims: We break down the details
WhatsApp shares more data with Facebook than it claims: We break down the details

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WhatsApp has found itself in dire straits over the new privacy policy changes that were pushed on the morning of January 6. WhatsApp's users around the world received a notification of an update to the popular messaging app’s privacy policy, how it processes user data and how it partners with Facebook to better integrate with the larger Facebook Company Products that include Messenger, Instagram, Facebook Shops and more. 

WhatsApp has since received widespread criticism from users as it was discovered that the company had removed the option to opt-out of data sharing features that were present before. The Facebook-backed messaging app started releasing clarifications and detailed explainers on how WhatsApp remains safe for texting and calling. 

WhatsApp shares more data with Facebook

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data,” WhatsApp said in a public statement after users started to sign-up to other instant messaging platforms. 

This was followed by a front-page advertisement campaign carried out in major newspapers across India which reiterated the company’s stance on the new privacy policy. Needless to say, the company has found itself in an unprecedented situation which is why it is going to all lengths to explain to users what the new privacy policy means for them going forward.

WhatsApp’s claims and contradictions

What’s interesting here is that WhatsApp claims that it cannot see user’s messages or hear calls and the same goes for Facebook. It also does not keep a log of user’s interaction and says it cannot see shared location as well. However, this is where the company's explanation falls flat on its face. 

As this Android Authority report found out, in the Privacy Policy section up on WhatsApp website, it states that it collects and uses precise location information from users smartphones whenever a user makes use of location sharing features.

WhatsApp goes on to say that, “Even if you do not use our location-related features, we use IP addresses and other information like phone number area codes to estimate your general location (e.g., city and country). We also use your location information for diagnostics and troubleshooting purposes.”

WhatsApp’s claims and contradictions

Additionally, the company says in its privacy policy that for users to use the location sharing feature, they will have to permit WhatsApp to collect location data otherwise they will not be able to share their location with other people. So when the company says that it does not see your shared locations, it comes across as rather misleading and ends up confusing the users even more so. 

Even if the company now claims that it cannot see the shared location, the updated privacy policy gives it exactly the kind of freedom to share more data points with Facebook and other products. Moreover, the company has also revealed what information it does share with the Facebook Companies. WhatsApp admits that it shares various data points with Facebook including account information, phone number, “information on how you interact with others including businesses and more. 

“WhatsApp currently shares certain categories of information with Facebook Companies. The information we share with the other Facebook Companies includes your account registration information (such as your phone number), transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using our Services, mobile device information, your IP address, and may include other information identified in the Privacy Policy section entitled ‘Information We Collect’ or obtained upon notice to you or based on your consent,” WhatsApp says on its website.

Another area where WhatsApp contradicts its existing policies is in sharing of contact lists. Under the Information We Collect section in its privacy policy, WhatsApp states that it can collect phone numbers in a user’s address book on a regular basis if permitted by laws in that particular country. However, in its latest attempt to clarify the new privacy policy, the company claims it does not share your contacts with Facebook while its policies say just the opposite.

When it comes to Business accounts, the company states that all business using Facebook hosting services to manage their chats and customers may use information you share with Facebook for marketing and advertising purposes. So if you interact with a WhatsApp Business account in the near future, the information you tell the business could be used to show you relevant ads on Facebook or Instagram. 

Overall, it doesn’t seem like WhatsApp is getting out of this debacle anytime soon as it first needs to instil some confidence in users by coming out and being clear as to what data points it shares with parent-company, Facebook. Otherwise, Telegram and Signal are already gaining millions of registrations, because one thing is clear, people are done with big tech snooping around their personal lives.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy will take effect from February 8 and users will have to choose to accept the new terms to continue using the app.

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Siddharth Chauhan

Digit caters to the largest community of tech buyers, users and enthusiasts in India. The all new Digit in continues the legacy of Thinkdigit.com as one of the largest portals in India committed to technology users and buyers. Digit is also one of the most trusted names when it comes to technology reviews and buying advice and is home to the Digit Test Lab, India's most proficient center for testing and reviewing technology products.

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