Accept WhatsApp’s privacy policy before the deadline – or be cut off

WhatsApp users have until 15 May 2021 to accept changes to the Facebook-owned messaging platform’s terms of service and privacy policy, or lose access.

“If you haven’t accepted by then, WhatsApp will not delete your account,” the company states in a FAQ on its website.

“However, you won’t have full functionality of WhatsApp until you accept. For a short time, you’ll be able to receive calls and notifications, but won’t be able to read or send messages from the app.”

Facebook first issued a notice to WhatsApp users about the changes in January, with the original cut-off date set for 8 February 2021.

Facebook extended the deadline following widespread backlash over concerns from users that WhatsApp user data would be shared with the Facebook social network.

The concerns arose due to the wording of the initial notice. It said that one of the key updates was more information about how WhatsApp partners with Facebook to offer integrations across Facebook’s family of products.

Facebook’s products include WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus VR, and the Facebook social network itself.

Within a day of the social media backlash, Facebook issued a statement assuring WhatsApp users that the privacy policy changes were only about business messaging.

“There will be no change in data sharing with Facebook for non-business chats and account information, and with regard to business messaging, we are not mandating users to share data,” Facebook stated.

Facebook said the main thing users should keep in mind about its new policy, is that businesses will now have the option to use Facebook’s hosting infrastructure to host their WhatsApp chats if they don’t want to store their messages themselves.

“Every user will be notified within the chat if the business they are talking to has chosen to use Facebook’s secure hosting infrastructure to store their WhatsApp messages, and people do not have to message or interact with businesses on WhatsApp if they choose not to do so,” said Facebook.

“Users can also still easily block a business on WhatsApp if they want.”

By 16 January, Facebook announced that it was delaying the implementation of its new terms of service and privacy policy, and giving users until 15 May 2021 to opt in.

Users who have not yet accepted the changes are now being prompted daily to do so.

Screenshots of WhatsApp terms and privacy policy change notification
WhatsApp terms and privacy policy change notification

Facebook has made no changes to its plans for WhatsApp’s terms of service and privacy policy following the public outcry.

It has simply changed the notification it presents to users about the change.

Rather than immediately presenting an ultimatum with a brief list of changes, Facebook first shows a screen emphasising that it can’t access your private messages on WhatsApp.

“We can’t read or listen to your personal conversations, as they are end-to-end encrypted. This will never change,” Facebook promises.

On a webpage providing further details about what is and what isn’t changing, Facebook assures users that WhatsApp’s new terms service will not affect how user data is shared.

“Your acceptance of the new Terms of Service does not expand WhatsApp’s ability to share user data with its parent company Facebook,” the company states.

This rings true, as Facebook already added clauses to WhatsApp’s privacy policy to allow it to share user data with other Facebook properties back in 2016.

“We joined the Facebook family of companies in 2014. As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies,” the privacy policy states.

“We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.”

WhatsApp further states that it works with Facebook to offer new products and services with this shared data, giving the following examples:

  • If you’re chatting with a business on WhatsApp, you can view their Facebook Shop from their WhatsApp business profile.
  • You may choose to use a Facebook Pay account to buy something in WhatsApp without re-entering your payment details.
  • Businesses that advertise on Facebook and Instagram may provide a link to their WhatsApp account directly in the advertisement, so that if you’re interested, you can reach them on WhatsApp.
  • If you forget the password of your Facebook account, you can choose to send a code to WhatsApp to get access to your account.
  • You can choose to connect your WhatsApp account to a Facebook video calling device called Portal.

“WhatsApp currently shares certain categories of information with Facebook Companies,” the company explains.

The information it shares with other Facebook companies includes your account registration information, such as your phone number), transaction data if you use Facebook Pay or Shops in WhatsApp, service-related information, information on how you interact with businesses, mobile device information, and your IP address.

Other data may also be shared upon notice to you, or based on your consent.

Pansy Tlakula
Pansy Tlakula, Chair of the Information Regulator of South Africa

After the backlash against WhatsApp’s ultimatum, the South African Information Regulator argued that South Africans could not be forced to accept the new terms of service and privacy policy through the threat of losing access to WhatsApp.

“The consent in terms of our law is specific — it is a voluntary expression of will on what you are consenting to,” said Advocate Pansy Tlakula, the chair of the Information Regulator.

“On the face of it, the new WhatsApp privacy policy requires involuntary consent because it says you should leave the platform if you do not give consent. That can never be voluntary consent.”

The regulator also raised a concern that citizens of the European Union will receive significantly higher privacy protection than people in South Africa.

Tlakula said they are concerned about the different standards that apply to South Africa, as our legislation is very similar to that of the EU.

“It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions,” she said.

Tlakula later took steps to enact legislation that would block Facebook – and others – from using unique identifiers, such as phone numbers, for any other purpose than what they were originally intended when users signed up.

BusinessInsider reported that the Information Regulator published a notice in the government gazette on 1 April to activate these powers granted by the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).

The new rules on the processing of unique identifiers in South Africa are only set to take effect on 1 July, together with other important POPIA provisions.

MyBroadband contacted Facebook and the Information Regulator for comment. Facebook declined to comment, and the Information Regulator did not provide feedback by the time of publication.

Now read: Brutal battle between WhatsApp and South Africa’s GovChat

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Accept WhatsApp’s privacy policy before the deadline – or be cut off