The company however says that that isn’t the case; asserting that the update has nothing to do with consumer chats or profile data, and instead the change is only to understand how businesses who use WhatsApp for customer service may store logs of its chats on Facebook servers. The company also recalls previewing the upcoming changes to business chats back in October 2020.
Yet, a wave of (perceived) public misunderstanding on social media, fueled by Facebook’s abysmal privacy track record and its reputation for bewildering changes to its terms of service agreements, has led to a full-blown WhatsApp backlash that has users fleeing to competitors like Signal and Telegram.
Signal, which has become one of the most downloaded apps on Android and iOS app stores since Elon Musk tipped the controversy in its favour, by tweeting “Use Signal” to his 42 million plus followers last week.
Telegram, which is currently No. 2 behind Signal on the App Store, as at yesterday, had gained over 25 million new users within 72 hours.
With Twitter the headquarters of the public backlash, WhatsApp executives, as well as Instagram chief Adam Mosseri and Facebook AR / VR head Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, have taken to their various Twitter handles to try to set the record straight. But perhaps that is too little to late already.
The new WhatsApp FAQ publication also stresses that neither Facebook nor WhatsApp read users’ message logs or listen to their calls, and that WhatsApp doesn’t store user location data or share contact information with Facebook.
WhatsApp boss, Will Cathcart also tweeted a thread a few days ago hoping to cut through the perceived misunderstanding.
The irony, however, is that what WhatsApp users are so keen to avoid has probably already been happening for a vast majority of them. The company only briefly afforded users the option to opt out of data sharing with Facebook back in 2016, two years after being purchased by Facebook.
Since then, new sign-ups and those who didn’t manually opt out of data sharing have had some WhatsApp information, principally their phone number and profile name, shared with the larger social network for ad targeting and other purposes. If you did opt out in 2016, however, WhatsApp has pledged to honor that even after the February 8th update, PCMag reports.
For emphasis, WhatsApp's privacy label on the App Store shows several scores of information tagged as “data linked to you,”. This might give room to wonder about how much more data, besides the unique device ID and app usage data which are reported to be used for “developer’s advertising and marketing”, may WhatsApp be using for such purposes without users' knowledge.
WhatsApp A Victim of Facebook's Poor Privacy Reputation
While this whole controversy may be dismissed as a case of users misreading confusing media reports, jumping to conclusions, and then participating in scaremongering on social media, Facebook must face the reality that that the lack of trust in WhatsApp is directly linked to years of ill-fated privacy pledges from Facebook and increasing incomprehensible terms of service agreements.
It is therefore no wonder that users are flocking to Signal — managed by a nonprofit and subsisting on donations and wealthy benefactors WhatsApp co-founder, Brian Acton, who left due to user privacy disagreements after Facebook took the wheels — since they are no longer sure they can trust what’s really happening when they message people on WhatsApp.
Facebook and WhatsApp face a really long road of transparent communication and trust-building ahead if they want to win the users they just lost back.