/ Technology

Have you accepted WhatsApp’s new terms and conditions?

You might have noticed WhatsApp asking you to accept its new terms and conditions recently – are you on board, or are you considering switching away?

Do you use WhatsApp regularly? I use it a lot: my brother and sister and I are dealing with our late mother’s estate and so we’re in constant touch via our siblings’ WhatsApp group.

My father and stepmother are spending the winter in Madeira and are keeping us updated with how they’re doing via our family WhatsApp group. I chat to friends and colleagues via WhatsApp several times a day.

Before the pandemic stopped us from meeting up for lunch, I regularly used the Share Location feature to let friends know how far away I was from our meeting point.

WhatsApp has become the trusted go-to app for secure communication between family members, friends, parents of schoolchildren, politicians: in fact more than two billion of us use it. 

New terms and conditions

However, that trust has taken a knock as a result of a change to the app’s terms and conditions that you’ll almost certainly have seen a notification for.

Briefly, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, has told us that it’s changing its terms and conditions relating to messaging a business on WhatsApp. It’s stated that this is optional and ‘provides further transparency’ about how it collects and uses data.

First, the good news: the change does not apply to users in the UK and the EU: we are shielded by data protection protection law.

So what data does Facebook want to collect from WhatsApp? Surely because WhatsApp messages are encrypted, there’s nothing of use to Facebook?

Unfortunately, even without access to what you’re saying in your WhatsApp messages, Facebook can learn a lot from how you use WhatsApp. It can see what’s called metadata, which here means data about who you’re chatting to, how you’re connected to them on Facebook, where you both are, what devices you’re using to chat, how often you chat.

Facebook can infer a great deal about you from those connections, and use that to show you ever more closely targeted advertising. Until now there’s been a firewall between Facebook and WhatsApp and data couldn’t be shared between the two apps. It’s this firewall that Facebook is removing for users outside the UK/EU.

Should you switch platforms?

The answer, is, as ever: it depends. If you are in the UK/EU, and only chat to people in those countries, nothing is changing for you. If you were comfortable with WhatsApp previously, there’s no need to move. 

However, if you chat to people outside those countries and aren’t feeling comfortable with the new terms and conditions, you could consider switching to another messaging app. Data will be collected from the people you’re talking to, and data about you will be collected too, though Facebook won’t be able to connect that to your Facebook account.

And of course if you are an activist, a whistleblower or someone for whom privacy is vital, you shouldn’t be using WhatsApp in the first place. I’ve installed the Signal app, which, like WhatsApp, encrypts the messages I share with others.

However, because it’s not connected to any of the big social platforms, the metadata isn’t used by third parties, and so it’s more private. But although I prefer the privacy of Signal, I know that many of my friends won’t make the switch.

Managing your privacy

You can argue that because I continue to use Facebook, Twitter and Android, my privacy is already hideously compromised anyway, and you’d be right.

However, we all have our lines in the sand: I don’t use Gmail except to sign in to Android, and I don’t use the Gmail app at all. I also use the Edge browser rather than Chrome where possible. Small choices keep at least some of my data away from the Google and Facebook panopticons.

What are your choices? Will you keep on using WhatsApp, and if so, why? Or will you be switching to another app?

Are you considering switching from WhatsApp to a different messenger service?
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Let me know in the comments. 

Comments

Thank you for the most concise and useful explanation of this issue I have seen, in particular pointing out the significantly reduced impact upon users in the EEA and UK.

But one very simple solution, which none of the many articles on ths subject mentions, is to remove your mobile number from Facebook. Mobile numbers are the only personal identifier used by WhatsApp, and therefore if Facebook doesn’t have it, WhatsApp and Facebook cannot match a WhatsApp user to a Facebook user.

I have never given my mobile number to Facebook, not least because it was previously possible to use Facebook as a reverse telephone directory, whereby you could enter someone’s mobile number into Facebook in order to find out their name. Everyone should now remove their mobile number from Facebook because of WhatsApp’s new terms and conditions.

Luis Loureiro says:
15 January 2021

I have been using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp for a few years, but a month ago or so I have deleted my accounts, except WhatsApp. The reason why I have keeping with it is because I can chat with my family abroad, and with a quality superior than the landline. That’s the reason why I gave it 5 stars rating. The only thing I don’t like with WhatsApp is that belongs to Facebook! Because of it I might make a switch very soon.

Unfortunately it’s not the phone number they’ll use but the device. So unless you use different devices for each app, which would just be hugely inconvenient for most, they’ll still pair the two.

Michael P says:
15 January 2021

I’m surprised and annoyed about the link to sign in via Facebook or Twitter neigther of which I actively use. I’m even more annoyed that my previous ability to join the debate has disappeared. It seems too much trouble to resurrect it.

DerekP says:
15 January 2021

I try to minimise my exposure and segregate the use of different apps and platforms as best as I can.

For a lot of useful opinions and advice on these topics, it can be worth looking at Rob Braxman’s videos, see:-https://www.youtube.com/c/BraxMe/videos

I use Signal and for the web Brave

R Osmon says:
15 January 2021

As the UK Government is pulling away from upholding many EU safeguards and citizens’ rights should we also presume that the data protection laws are also no longer to be taken for granted?

Rachel says:
16 January 2021

Thanks for the links to the articles, these now seem to be superseded by others which state we are protected by data protection laws WhatsApp and Facebook to share users’ data outside Europe and UK https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-55573149

MahidR says:
15 January 2021

Seems like Which did not like my links. The article I shared mentioned “Facebook users in the UK will be overseen by the company’s US headquarters and rules after Brexit, the company has announced.” and “After the Brexit transition is completed, however, British users will be covered by the Californian rules of Facebook’s headquarters.”

Mahid – Most links have to go through a moderation process to check their safety and compliance. Perhaps your comment with links is still in the queue

This is NOT true – see https://faq.whatsapp.com/general/security-and-privacy/who-is-providing-your-whatsapp-services . The EU is only a political part of Europe, the coverage in the new policy is for the ‘European region’.

I left Facebook around 12 years ago as I could see where it was heading, (along similar lines to google)., and I prefer to have control over my data. I never used my true phone number so never had any concerns on that issue.
Mozilla Firefox is an excellent security and privacy conscious free web browser, or alternatively, Brave!

My privacy app block 2 potential trackers on this site:
www . googletagmanager . com
www . googletagservices . com
t . co that it has not decided whether it needs to be blocked yet.
Others:
secure . gravatar . com
www . gravatar. com
assets . resultspage . com
which . resultspage . com
s . w . org
that at the moment do not appear to be tracking.

I hope you find the above useful.

Since the first lockdown I have been using WhatApp frequently, though I had previously uninstalled it when Facebook took it over. I have checked my Facebook account and it looks as if I have not provided a phone number. Prior to that I scrapped Skype when Microsoft took over.

Although I do not like tracking, any targeted advertising is going to be ignored at best or it might persuade me not to use the company. Over the years I have blacklisted companies, even if I have never used them, because of junk email.

Paul says:
17 January 2021

Have already installed signal old thankfully so have a lot of my friends…. goodbye whatsapp 😊

Franck says:
17 January 2021

What if I hit YES by accident on WhatsApp new terms?
Can I get this “corrected”?

Mary Middleton says:
18 January 2021

I use WhatsApp quite a bit and Facebook occasionally. Facebook doesn’t have my phone number. I try to turn off most cookies but sometimes don’t bother. I don’t read ads on fb. I’ll take the risk with WhatsApp until there’s a trend (amongst my friends) to another platform as I find it a convenient way to communicate with friends. I’m a little confused that the article says the rules are changing about contacting a business on WhatsApp – is it only changing for business contacts then? I don’t contact any businesses on it. How would they know a business is a business anyway?

Brooke Bayley says:
18 January 2021

If you pause to consider the incredible number of accounts on each website, and have nothing dubious to hide, the chances of sustaining any damage by the linking of WhatsApp and Facebook must be considered negligible. WhatsApp is a very convenient tool for family communication. If you elect to dump it for reasons of “Privacy”, what will you use instead?

I’ve just looked at my Fakebook account with a view to removing my mobile number. I get this warning. “Your phone number helps keep your account secure. If you remove your number from Facebook, you may not be able to reset your password if you ever need to. You’ll no longer receive SMS notifications from Facebook on this number.”
Is this just scare tactics? I’m not particularly computer savvy so can anyone advise?

Yep, an empty threat. When you forget your password, it can be restored via email (in fact, that’s the main way). I just did it. You can also select Facebook accounts owned by people who you trust in order to restore your account should you ever get completely locked out. I had the same concern as you. Now, I’m even more concerned because it feels like Facebook find it so easily to lie/mislead me.

Alan Reynolds says:
18 January 2021

I am grateful for the warning about putting my mobile number on Facebook, so I have now deleted it

joe ellis says:
18 January 2021

Got whatsup but don’t have faceache or twatter,I contact friends is S.America.So this isn’t a problem for me?correct?

Paul says:
19 January 2021

I am going to post this here as I respect Which and its clients as I am one of them. I feel there has been a bit of false information about the change in WhatsApp T&C/privacy statement.

I recommend you read carefully and compare the previous policy with the current. You will see that nothing has actually changed if anything they have been honest enough to spell out the already binding statement you agreed to in the policy 2019 update which was Facebook family of companies are able to process the same data as per the current policy that is causing such an uproar.

https://www.whatsapp.com/legal/privacy-policy/revisions/20191219
https://www.whatsapp.com/legal/updates/privacy-policy

and for all us EU people the same but in a nice format, because obviously, we need to be given our information like children with a Q&A https://www.whatsapp.com/legal/updates/privacy-policy-eea

I plead with someone to come to a different conclusion post comparison to myself and articulate it rather than simply reading the sensational headlines.

For the record, I do not work for any of the companies and have no invested interest in this topic aside from honest reporting of the facts. Putting this response on any other site would get me “trolled” as to how dare any human want to have an opinion contrary to popular consensus.