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.
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?
Let me know in the comments.