WhatsApp Sends an Unwanted “Signal” to its Users: Data Privacy Trends

See what I did there?  Maybe they should have sent a “Telegram”.  😉

According to Bloomberg (Why WhatsApp’s New Privacy Rules Are Sparking Alarm, written by Nate Lanxon), Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging app began alerting much of its 2 billion users to an update of its privacy policy – and if they want to keep using the popular messaging app, they have to accept it. The new terms, delivered in early 2021, have caused an outcry among technology experts, privacy advocates, billionaire entrepreneurs and government organizations and triggered a wave of defections to rival services. WhatsApp says the change is necessary to help it integrate better with other Facebook products.

WhatsApp is now reserving the right to share data it collects about you with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram, regardless of whether you have accounts or profiles there. Much of the policy, which is about monetizing WhatsApp, is broadly in line with what came before, and states that “WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook Companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate” and market services. For long-time users, the option to share data with Facebook was made available in 2016, but it was just that: optional and temporary. Starting Feb. 8th, it’s mandatory for everybody.

Well, not quite.

There’s a difference in the text for Europe compared with the rest of the world.  European data protection authorities, which under the European Union’s strict privacy laws are empowered to fine companies as much as 4% of global annual revenue if they breach the bloc’s rules, in 2016 had expressed “serious concerns” about the sharing of WhatsApp user data. EU antitrust authorities in 2017 fined Facebook 110 million euros ($134 million) for misleading regulators during a 2014 review of its takeover of WhatsApp but stopped short of overturning the merger approval. Facebook had told EU regulators during the review it technically wasn’t possible to combine WhatsApp data with its other services.

So, how did the announcement go over with WhatsApp users?  Not well.  Some people misunderstood the update to mean that Facebook wants to read your personal WhatsApp messages or access your financial information. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s media office and his country’s defense ministry said they’re dropping WhatsApp. According to The Verge, Tesla CEO Elon Musk even jumped into the fray, tweeting last week “Use Signal” to his more than 42 million followers. As the controversy has grown, Signal has become one of the most downloaded apps on Android and iOS and its verification system for signing up new users has repeatedly buckled under the pressure. Telegram, which is currently No. 2 behind Signal on the App Store, saw more than 25 million new users sign up in just 72 hours.

Needless to say, WhatsApp has had to clarify it’s position regarding to what it’s doing with users’ data, via a new FAQ page to its website.  For some reason, their users were alarmed when they heard that WhatsApp could be sharing their data with the rest of the Facebook network.  Can’t imagine why?  😉

So, what do you think?  Are we moving forward on the data privacy front, or moving backward?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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