WhatsApp still protects and secures messages, but privacy concerns remain

WhatsApp is doing damage control after its recent policy update by assuring people that the change does not affect the privacy of their messages with friends or family in any way.

The update required WhatsApp users to accept the company’s new terms of service and privacy policy by 8 February 2021.

Among the changes is a clause that allows Facebook to share data from WhatsApp across its other products. In addition to its social network service, Facebook owns Instagram and Oculus VR.

This did not sit well with many people, and a media storm quickly erupted around WhatsApp privacy and concerns about sharing user data with Facebook.

Facebook responded, saying the recent changes to WhatsApp’s terms of service and privacy policy are only about business messaging.

The company told MyBroadband that WhatsApp will not mandate data sharing with Facebook.

“There will be no change in WhatsApp’s data sharing with Facebook for non-business chats and account information,” it said.

“We are updating our terms of service and privacy policy as we work to make WhatsApp a great way to get answers or help from a business,” Facebook added.

Facebook said that the main thing users should keep in mind about its new policy is that when messaging a business, they will now have the option to use Facebook’s secure 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,” Facebook said.

It added that users can easily block a business on WhatsApp if they want and that they are not mandating users to share data with business messaging.

The image below shows the WhatsApp policy update on Android and iPhone.

WhatsApp still protects and secures your messages

On Tuesday, WhatsApp provided further information about the policy change, assuring users that they continue to protect private messages with end-to-end encryption.

The company highlighted that it cannot see your private messages or hear your calls, and neither can Facebook.

“We will never weaken this security and we clearly label each chat, so you know our commitment,” WhatsApp said.

WhatsApp also doesn’t keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling and can’t see your shared location (and neither can Facebook).

“We don’t share your contacts with Facebook, groups remain private, you can set your messages to disappear, and you can download your data.”

WhatsApp reiterated that the policy update relates to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.

WhatsApp shared the image below in social media posts to confirm its commitment to user privacy.

WhatsApp Privacy

Big increase in Telegram and Signal users

The information shared by WhatsApp and Facebook did not negate the wave of negative publicity they received on social media.

It has resulted in many people vowing to stop using WhatsApp and move to services like Telegram and Signal. Many seemed to have followed through on their promise.

Telegram product manager Pavel Durov said in the first week of January, Telegram surpassed 500 million monthly active users.

He added that 25 million new users joined Telegram in the last 72 hours alone. 38% of these users came from Asia, 27% from Europe, 21% from Latin America, and 8% from MENA.

Durov said this is a significant increase compared to last year, when 1.5 million new users signed up every day.

“We’ve had surges of downloads before, throughout our 7-year history of protecting user privacy. But this time is different,” he said.

“People no longer want to exchange their privacy for free services. They no longer want to be held hostage by tech monopolies that seem to think they can get away with anything as long as their apps have a critical mass of users.”

He said with half a billion active users and accelerating growth, Telegram has become the largest refuge for those seeking a communication platform committed to privacy and security.

Signal has seen equally impressive growth which was partly driven by an endorsement from Elon Musk.

Signal’s Brian Acton said their messaging app topped the rankings on the App Store in 40 countries and on Google Play Store in 18 countries.

Sensor Tower said Signal received around 7.5 million installs between 6 January and 10 January, representing a 4,200% week-on-week increase.

The main reason for the increased Telegram and Signal downloads is privacy concerns.

The table below provides an overview of the privacy details for WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal.

Privacy Details
Data WhatsApp Telegram Signal
Identifiers Device ID
User ID
User ID No data linked to your identity
Contact info Phone number

Email address

Phone number

Name

Contacts Contacts Contacts
Usage data Advertising data
Product interaction
Purchases Purchase history
Location Coarse location
User content Other (not messages, photos, or audio data)
Diagnostics Crash data

Performance data

Other


WhatsApp comment


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WhatsApp head Will Cathcart comment


Now read: WhatsApp compared to alternatives Telegram and Signal

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WhatsApp still protects and secures messages, but privacy concerns remain