WhatsApp’s new privacy policy: Give us your data or delete the app

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

In a controversial move, popular instant messaging app WhatsApp have changed their privacy policy to allow Facebook – its parent company – to forcefully collect private user data such as phone numbers, payment info, location, and more.

Users who refuse to comply with the updated policy – that will come into effect as of February 8 – will lose their chats, contacts, and access to the app as a whole. The update will be visible in the form of an in-app notification, which users can choose to ignore until the date arrives.

“By tapping Agree, you accept the new terms, which take effect on February 8, 2021,” the notification states, adding that “After this date, you’ll need to accept the new terms to continue using WhatsApp. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account.”

Under the terms of the new policy, Facebook will be able to collect users’ data from the app such as their phone number, email address, contacts, location, device ID, user ID, advertising data, purchase history, product interaction, payment info, crash, performance, and other diagnostic data, customer support, and metadata.

Alternative apps such as Telegram only collects a user’s name, phone number, contacts, and user ID, while Signal just requires a mobile phone number for registration with no link to the individual’s identity.

Many have gone to Twitter to criticize, provide alternative apps, and voice their concern about the Tech giant’s decision to force users to hand in their private data.

Among them are Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk who tweeted “Use Signal.”

Prominent Palestinian writer and entrepreneur Iyad el-Baghdadi tweeted that “it’s time to dump WhatsApp and get your moms to use Signal. There is no other way,” in which the official Signal App Twitter account replied with “there’s no terms and conditions for a mother’s love,” poking fun at WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

WhatsApp is the biggest instant messaging app in the world with a global user base of 2.5 billion; however, the app has been under fire for misuse of user data ever since its acquisition by tech titan Facebook.

To the extent where WhatsApp’s co-founder Jan Koum resigned as CEO in 2018 in protest Facebook’s strategy of monetizing personal data.

However, some experts have already foreseen the arrival of such a controversial update.

“They’ve been already using this strategy of sharing data between Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram for years, but now they are just being honest about it,” Christophe Kiwan, a cybersecurity consultant at Murex Advanced Enterprise Capital Markets Technology a leading company in software development, told Inside Telecom.

Kiwan argues that these tactics and strategies have previously placed Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg under fire, landing him a seat to testify in front of the U.S. 116th Congress, and the EU Parliament time and again.

“The trend to dump WhatsApp for other applications such as Telegram and Signal has been there before, with popular CEOs such as Elon Musk and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey who have already preached for the use of Signal time and again,” he added.

In fact, in the last 24 hours Signal and Telegram have been witnessing a mass migration from WhatsApp as people fear for where their private information is being headed and how it’s being used.

Signal publicly announced on their various social media platforms that their servers and registration processes have crashed or been delayed due to the immense level of people signing simultaneously.

While Telegram witnessed a sudden surge of downloads and increase level of demand, with 7.2 million users downloading the app globally during the first week of 2021, following WhatsApp’s announcement of their privacy policy.

However, that’s not only the problem.

“Regardless of how many people decide to leave WhatsApp, the company already has heaps of information gathered on all its users being stored in Facebook’s global data centers in the past, and are effectively using it,” Kiwan told Inside Telecom.

In parallel, while single users are starting to feel the pressure of breached privacy, WhatsApp business is where all the blunders fall.

“Everything you say to WhatsApp Business account will be allowed to be given to third party apps and companies; everything from your payment method, the service/product you’re buying, when, which bank is being used, literally everything is passed on to an untraceable location, while not knowing who’s going to profit from it, who’s going to read, and who’s going to store it for later use,” he highlighted.

Kiwan notes that this approach is highly unethical, since Facebook is using its position as the world’s biggest social media instant messaging platforms to abuse their power, forcing their users to either hand in their data or delete the application as a whole, without any choice of opting out.

“Note that the company didn’t offer an alternative nor give any options, they merely handed people an ultimatum to either remain connected with their services to stay in touch with the world at large, or lock you out of it,” Kiwan explained.

However, this begs the question: will other tech companies follow suit?

According to the cybersecurity consultant, tech companies currently stand at a crossroad; either they stand with the people and lobby against such privacy policies to be enacted while preaching a free and private service or follow the tide and do the same.

“There are too many aspects to consider; first off, it depends on the privacy and security laws in every country or continent, either other companies and governments will file lawsuits against the tech titan or follow the trend set forth by the most dominant social media platform on earth,” he expressed.

Currently, public opinion will firmly stand against Facebook’s policy, but there are bigger elements at play, a debate reaching the halls of big corporates and big governments alike that will set the tone for how technology will drastically change our lives, either for the good or the bad.

“But what’s certain right now is that following February 8, you will not have privacy while using WhatsApp,” Kiwan told Inside Telecom.