WhatsApp privacy changes to come into effect May 15

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Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp is pushing ahead with controversial changes to its terms of service, but altering the way it notifies its users following a backlash.

WhatsApp said on Thursday it will go ahead with its controversial privacy policy update but will allow users to read it at “their own pace” and will also display a banner providing additional information.

In January, the messaging platform informed users it was preparing a new privacy policy, under which it could share limited user data with Facebook and its group firms.

It sparked a global outcry and sent users to rival apps Telegram and Signal, among others, prompting WhatsApp to delay the new policy launch to May. While the Facebook-owned platform previously said it had been the victim of “misinformation” around the change, it now says it has “reflected” on how it could have explained the changes better.

WhatsApp says the data it shares with its parent company does not include messages, groups or call logs. Instead, it says the new terms focus on changes to allow users to message businesses.

WhatsApp already shares information with Facebook, such as your IP address and information about your phone, as well as purchases made via the platform. However, this does not apply in Europe and the UK, where different privacy laws exist.

But privacy experts say the saga highlights how unaware users are of how their data is being used.

“In its efforts to clarify that isn’t doing anything wrong, WhatsApp has in fact inadvertently highlighted that it was already harvesting huge amounts of data for Facebook,” Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy told The BBC.

That “vindicates” those who decided to leave WhatsApp, he said.

“The biggest takeaway from all of this is that WhatsApp was already harvesting device level identifiers, IP addresses, and purchase info on behalf of Facebook – and that until recent media attention, the general public was largely unaware.”

 
Chris Price
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