WhatsApp is adamant that they are being transparent about user data, but those seven points are not the whole truth. What isn’t being talked about is what other data is being shared with Facebook Company Products, for improving services, personalizing suggestions and serving uncannily precise ads.
- Last Updated: January 13, 2021, 16:04 IST
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Let us first take a look at what WhatsApp is adamant that they do not collect and insist that they are being transparent about user data. First, they say that WhatsApp can neither see your messages or hear your calls on the platform and neither can Facebook. Secondly, they insist that they do not keep a log of who the users are messaging or calling. Third, they say that WhatsApp does not share your contacts with Facebook. Fourth, they insist WhatsApp cannot see your shared location and neither can Facebook (a bit more on this later). Fifth, they say WhatsApp groups remain private. Sixth, they say you can download your WhatsApp data (how this makes any sense is beyond me, but I do admit I don’t know everything. Last but not least, WhatsApp says that you can set your messages to disappear.
In the same point, WhatsApp says, “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.”
There you go. You thought you were smart and disabled location data access on your phone? WhatsApp will still find a way. They claim it is for just diagnostics and troubleshooting. Theoretically, WhatsApp can share even this collected data with Facebook—but we don’t know if it does. Or doesn’t.
Debunking “We don’t keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling”: WhatsApp says they don’t know who you are messaging or calling on the platform. “While traditionally mobile carriers and operators store this information, we believe that keeping these records for two billion users would be both a privacy and security risk and we don’t do it,” says the WhatsApp clarification. Yet, WhatsApp gets very close. They may try to portray it as that, but they actually do collect a lot of your usage and log information.
WhatsApp may not know what you are messaging someone, but they do have a fair idea of how you are using the app. And that will likely include the most connected with contacts too. That’s how the magic of personalization is built and served.
Silence on data sharing with Facebook: WhatsApp makes the clarification that they do not share your contacts with Facebook, and neither can Facebook see your location data. That again, is a half-truth.
The WhatsApp updated terms say this is for “improving their services and your experiences using them, such as making suggestions for you (for example, of friends or group connections, or of interesting content), personalizing features and content, helping you complete purchases and transactions, and showing relevant offers and ads across the Facebook Company Products.”
If you are wondering what Facebook Company Products mean, we’ll let Facebook explain it anyway—" Facebook Products include Facebook (including the Facebook mobile app and in-app browser), Messenger, Instagram (including apps such as Boomerang), Portal-branded devices, Oculus Products (when using a Facebook account), Facebook Shops, Spark AR Studio, Audience Network, NPE Team apps and any other features, apps, technologies, software, products or services offered by Facebook Inc.”
No wonder WhatsApp is worried by the winds of change. The more privacy focused Telegram and Signal instant messaging apps have been at the right place at the right time to welcome users concerned by the way WhatsApp may be handling their data. Telegram has now clocked 500 million active users globally. While that is a significant milestone in itself, the bigger highlight perhaps is that 25 million new active users have joined the privacy focused Telegram in the past 72 hours, to push the user base beyond the 500 million mark. At this time, Telegram is the second most popular app on the Apple App Store for iPhone users, behind Signal. WhatsApp has been pushed down to third, though the latest numbers suggest WhatsApp is still being downloaded in large numbers.