Should Users Be Worried about WhatsApp Latest Privacy Policy Updates?

Should WhatsApp Users Be Worried about its Latest Privacy Policy Updates?

Facebook-owned WhatsApp recently updated its privacy policy. In an in-app notification sent to users worldwide, the Instant Messenger made it mandatory for users to accept the new policy by February 8 or otherwise delete their accounts.

By tapping AGREE, you accept our new terms and privacy policy, which take effect on February 8, 2021. After this date, you’ll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp chats. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account and would like more information.

Excerpt of WhatsApp notification to users

Compared to the previous policy updates introduced in July 2020, the new privacy rules include additional user data to be collected by WhatsApp and more detail on personal information shared with Facebook companies and other third-party service providers.

Going by the information available on the official WhatsApp website, users in the European region will not be affected by the new privacy policy. Invariably, the new rules control data-sharing for users in other regions such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Following the latest privacy policy updates, should WhatsApp users be concerned about the security of their personal data going forward?

WhatsApp’s Internal Privacy Policy Conflict

Since being acquired by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, WhatsApp has been heavily criticised about how it handles user data. Inside disputes over data privacy had been brewing between WhatsApp founders and Zuckerberg, culminating in co-founder, Brian Acton leaving the company in 2017 and former CEO Jan Koum quitting a year later.

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Whatsapp became more prominent after the release of Android.

With over 2 billion users across 180 countries and more than 5 billion downloads on the Google Play Store, WhatsApp has established itself as the most used messaging app globally. But protecting users’ privacy seems secondary to making money for Zuckerberg and his team.

In an exclusive interview with Forbes, WhatsApp co-founder, Acton had said: “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

New Privacy Rules In Light of WhatsApp Data Security

Together with obtaining extra data such as battery level, hardware model, signal strength and operating system information, WhatsApp will share user data including account registration details such as your phone number and mobile operator as well as transaction data, IP address and mobile device information with other Facebook companies (Instagram, Oculus, Threadsy etc).

WhatsApp privacy policy
A screenshot of WhatsApp policy on data-sharing with Facebook companies

With Facebook’s history of cases involving alleged data misappropriation, all these are sensitive personal information which, if they get into the wrong hands, would expose users to possible danger.

Data breaches could occur, and WhatsApp is particularly susceptible. Last year, a cybersecurity breach on the messaging app put over 1 billion users at risk of data infringement by malicious spyware, compromising user security for the hours it lasted.

Sharing such personal details with other Facebook companies (which are not 100% secure) increases the chances of user data being leaked to cybercriminals, who could carry out nefarious activities such as bank fraud and blackmail.

On location data, you will not be able to share location with WhatsApp contacts unless you grant the app permission to collect location data from your device, which is necessary for you to use the feature. But according to the new policy, even if you do not use the location-sharing feature, WhatsApp would use IP addresses and other information like phone number area codes to estimate your general location.

Security Analysts say WhatsApp can be easily hacked through spyware apps. For this reason, several users would rather not have their location data mandatorily gathered (despite not sharing location) because malware could later track it to WhatsApp’s database and collect sensitive information on where people live or work.

Added to this, the policy indicates that when users share any information on WhatsApp business, the data may be available to all associated third party service providers engaged by that business.

If a data breach occurs, leaked confidential company information could jeopardise reputation and cause great financial damage.

WhatsApp Users May Consider Alternative Messaging Apps

Due to the current privacy policy, some WhatsApp users (individuals and businesses) could consider switching to rival apps such as Signal and Telegram, cutting down WhatsApp’s overall revenue.

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Image Source: Business Insider

Endorsed by the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, Signal is now widely considered as being the most secure messaging app with respect to user data privacy. Chaired by WhatsApp co-founder, Brian Acton, Signal does not collect or store any sensitive user information, according to its privacy rules.

It is perhaps possible that WhatsApp could end up re-reviewing its new privacy policy to keep users from opting out.

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