What’s Up With WhatsApp?

4 Mar 2021

Reading the headlines over the last few days, you might be questioning your relationship status with messaging platform WhatsApp. Concerns about changes to privacy settings have been widely reported – leading to a backlash, with many users reportedly leaving the platform in protest. But how worried should you really be? We explain what’s really happening – and how this could impact you.

While many people in the security industry outside the UK and UE are saying they plan to leave the service, it’s worth considering how the changes will impact you personally.

What’s happening?

WhatsApp has sent a notification to all its users worldwide telling them that they must allow it to share data with its parent company Facebook if they wish to continue using the platform.

The first thing to understand is that this does not apply to users in the UK and Europe. Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, said European and UK users would not see the same data-sharing changes – an exception that has been welcomed by some as a victory for EU privacy regulators.

Secondly, the data WhatsApp plans to share with its parent company (Facebook) does not include messages, groups or call logs. WhatsApp has consistently said any messages between friends and/or families are encrypted from end-to-end so that no one, even WhatsApp, can read them. The policy has been the same for the past five years. This change is only to business WhatsApp.

However, the data that will be shared does include:

  • The phone number and other information the user provided on registration (such as name)
  • Information about the user’s phone, including make, model, and mobile company
  • Internet protocol (IP) addresses, which indicate the location of a user’s internet connections
  • Any payments and financial transactions made over WhatsApp

WhatsApp has said its policies are in line with “applicable” privacy laws. In addition, they say the update will enable it to offer new features – such as shopping and payments.

A section of the international privacy policy has been removed, which previously let people opt out of sharing personal information with Facebook for the first 30 days after the changes went live. Now the latest alert points users to an online help centre “if you would prefer to delete your account”.

Put simply, unless you accept the new terms by 15 May, you will be unable to keep using WhatsApp.

Should I leave Whatsapp?

The first question to ask yourself is are you on Facebook or Instagram? If you are, you have already signed up to the terms and conditions that were due to come in for WhatsApp on the 8th February 2021 (now 15th May 2021). If this is an issue that bothers you, you must consider your relationship with all three platforms.

To do this, take a step back and consider what your personal privacy appetite is. Remember there is no such thing as a free service. You “pay” by handing over your personal information and habits in order to receive the service – in other words, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. For many born in the last 30 years, this feels an acceptable trade off.

But do not ignore your privacy – at the very least ensure the setting on the apps you use are configured how you want them to be. You shouldn’t give away personal information needlessly – it has a value.

What if I use WhatsApp for business?

If you use WhatsApp (or Signal, Telegram, Discord) for business related communications, now is a good time to consider this in detail. The fact you are using these systems in a corporate environment can raise a regulatory and compliance red flag – if you are using an encrypted system, conversations about business that should be recorded, may not be. This causes issues not only in regulated industries – but also is a problem if you find yourself in a dispute or involved in litigation. There are many alternatives available for business use – now is a good time to look at other options.