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Facebook tightens its grip on WhatsApp Colin Trotter
31 August 2016

data to be reformatted

The popular messaging app, WhatsApp, has recently updated its terms, conditions and privacy policy to reflect that it will share information about its one billion users with its parent company, Facebook.

When WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, it said that it would not share its user data with its new parent company. But now WhatsApp say that by coordinating with Facebook, including connecting your phone number with Facebook's systems, Facebook will be able to offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads.

Bear in mind that the sharing of WhatsApp information with Facebook doesn’t just mean only Facebook. It means sharing with the ‘Facebook family of companies’. What? Yes, that means your information will be shared with nine other companies as well!

WhatsApp new terms of service

If, like me, you use WhatsApp, you probably ticked to accept the new terms of service without taking a proper look because you were in a hurry. It was only when I saw an online article alerting me to the change that I became aware of the significance of the shift.

As a result, I’ve changed my WhatsApp settings to opt-out of having my information spread further afield. Users have 30 days to revoke the sharing authority before it is too late to do so.

It made me think just how many of the one billion WhatsApp users will be diligent enough to read through the updated terms of service - probably very few.

A privacy-friendly way of implementing changes, like the ones to WhatsApp’s terms and conditions, is to allow users to opt-in to the service - not to put the onus on users to opt-out.

When changes to privacy practices aren’t immediately transparent, but embedded in a lengthy terms of use policy, it’s usually a sign that a company isn’t terribly focused on user privacy, and maybe purposefully on a course to implement changes that you might not want! 

What does it mean for privacy?

But the news got out and the change in policy has backfired on WhatsApp and Facebook. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating the changes to make sure they meet British data protection laws. In the US, the privacy watchdog organisation, Electronic Privacy Information Centre, says the changes are unlawful and violates a US Federal Trade Commission 2014 consent order to both Facebook and its popular messaging app.

In the eyes of many, WhatsApp’s credibility as being a privacy-friendly service has now taken a significant hit. If WhatsApp and Facebook want to be seen as taking privacy seriously, and lessen the likelihood of its users turning to the competition, they should re-think how they make changes to their users’ privacy.

If you want to know more about what obligations organisations have with personal information - or any other privacy-related issue, test our new AskUs online tool by posing a question.

And if you want to deepen your privacy knowledge even further, why not try our free online privacy learning modules?

Image credit: Janet McKnight via Flickr 

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  • Very useful and concerning. I'm going to tell everyone I know.

    Posted by Denise Brown, 07/09/2016 5:01pm (15 months ago)

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    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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