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Facebook forces WhatsApp users to share their personal data… or get off the platform

Facebook’s bait and switch will see WhatsApp sharing private information that goes significantly beyond names and profile pictures with Facebook and other subsidiaries. Phone numbers, address books, status updates, and even detailed data on the type of phone they’re using will be fed to the Facebook hive-mind. 

And woe betide anyone who does business on WhatsApp – information about shipping addresses, purchases, and the amount of money spent also belongs to Facebook under the new policy, which is supposed to take effect on February 8. The changes were quietly posted on the app’s website on Monday.

The company revealed to users that their personal information could be used to “help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services” to users going forward, tipping them off that the ostensibly privacy-focused messenger service is not as secure as it purports to be.

Indeed, WhatsApp’s privacy policy now acknowledges it monitors users’ content to “fight spam, threats, abuse, or infringement activities” – encryption or no encryption. The platform also claims to use private data to “improve” the WhatsApp experience, with targeted advertising and linkups to other Facebook products like Instagram and Portal. 

Users who don’t accept the new data sharing policies will have their accounts disabled. If they do not take action within 120 days, their accounts will be deleted entirely. The move echoes a similar ultimatum given to WhatsApp users in 2016; people had 30 days to opt out of sharing data with Facebook, and some found that the platform went ahead and shared the data even where the user had opted out.

When Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, the tech giant promised to respect CEO Jan Koum’s vision for a secure end-to-end encrypted messenger. The new Facebook-owned WhatsApp would not under any circumstances slurp up names, location information, addresses, or internet searches from the encrypted conversations being conducted on its platform.

However, WhatsApp has been slowly fracturing that promise for years. In 2018, Facebook announced WhatsApp would be integrating its data-sharing with other subsidiaries – but left users the possibility of opting out of the snoopware updates. Next month’s changes are not optional.

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