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WhatsApp tries to set the record straight

WhatsApp Web
(Image credit: dennizn / Shutterstock)

WhatsApp has been under fire ever since the news broke that its updated privacy policy would require users to share their data with its parent company, Facebook. 

This proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back for many of the instant messaging platform's 2-billion users, as scores of people said they would quit the app while others were weighing up alternative options.

WhatsApp came out to say that the changes to its privacy policy only apply to business accounts and dismissed the allegations that the company would share users' chats, voice calls, location data and status updates with Facebook as mere rumours.

The public was still unconvinced – WhatsApp said they received many 'thoughtful questions' about its updated Privacy Policy and issued a statement that sought to answer these questions and allay the public's fears, it also provided insight into how business accounts would use user data. 

WhatsApp says your privacy and security are a priority

WhatsApp can’t see your private messages or hear your calls, and neither can Facebook: End-to-end encryption protect all users' personal messages and calls and the platform vowed to never weaken this security feature. 

WhatsApp does not keep logs of who you are messaging or calling: The platform said unlike traditional mobile network operators it does not track this kind of information as it poses a security risk.

WhatsApp cannot see your shared location data and neither can Facebook: End-to-end encryption protects location data as well and means that only yourself and whomever you share your location with have access to it.

WhatsApp does not share your contacts with Facebook: ...unless you permit them to. Contact importing has become such a common social media function, many people have probably forgotten they have agreed to it at some point in time. However, WhatsApp says it only access the phone numbers in your contact list for your convenience and doesn't share your contacts with other Facebook apps.

– WhatsApp Groups remain private: End-to-end encryption.

You can set your messages to disappear: If you so choose, you can set your message to disappear after seven days. This is a useful privacy feature if you hate the thought of leaving behind a trail of correspondence but it is kind of meaningless if you use it with someone you cannot trust, as disappearing messages can outlive the seven days if they are screenshotted or forwarded to someone with disappearing messages turned off before its expiry date.

You can download your data: You can download and see what information WhatsApp has gathered about your account right in the app. Go to WhatsApp Settings > Account > Request account info.

WhatsApp's business features and Facebook

WhatsApp has grown significantly as an e-commerce portal. In October 2020, the company reported that 175-million users were using the platform to message a business daily. 

It has invested in heavily in its desire to expand and added a few nifty features for businesses to make use of. Recently WhatsApp introduced a virtual shopping cart that allowed users in South Africa, and across the globe, to browse through a business' catalogue and select items they would like to purchase or enquire about straight from the chat screen. 

The company's statement clarified that the updated policy mainly deals with changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp. 

It provided insight on how the following services affect how your data may be shared with Facebook if you choose to message a business on WhatsApp.

Facebook hosting services

Unlike personal messaging, businesses deal with many people and require a hosting service to manage their communication. Facebook offers such a hosting service – it allows businesses to chat with their customers, answer questions and send information such as purchase receipts.

WhatsApp said that whether you communicate with a business by phone, email or WhatsApp, "it can see what you’re saying and may use that information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook."

Although it does not say so explicitly, this seems to indicate that a business which uses Facebook's hosting services may share your information with the platform even if you don't use WhatsApp or Facebook.

However, if you do use WhatsApp to communicate with a business, the platform says it will clearly label conversations with parties that make use of Facebook's hosting services.

Commerce Features

WhatsApp said if you make purchases in the app, from businesses that use Facebook-branded commerce features like 'Shops', which allows businesses to display their goods in the chat, your shopping activity will be shared with Facebook.

The data will be used to personalise your Shops experience and affect the various advertisements you see on Facebook and Instagram.

The feature is optional and when you use it, WhatsApp says it will tell you how your data is being shared with Facebook in the app.

Business Discovery

When you spot a business ad that attracts your attention on Facebook, you may notice a button that prompts you to message the business using WhatsApp. If you have WhatsApp installed and choose to message the business Facebook may use the way your interactions with these kinds of ads to personalise the ads you come across on Facebook.

The way forward

In case, you are still unconvinced or unmoved by the tech behemoth's attempt at transparency, or maybe you're just sick of Facebook seeping into every aspect of your life – here's a guide on how to delete your WhatsApp account.