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Facebook will finally add the WhatsApp privacy policy option we all want

Published Aug 29th, 2021 1:08PM EDT
WhatsApp Privacy Policy
Image: REDPIXEL/Adobe

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Facebook’s big WhatsApp privacy policy controversy from the first half of 2021 was one of the biggest of the year. Facebook told WhatsApp users in early 2021 that they would have to agree to new terms of service. The new policy would allow Facebook to acquire WhatsApp user data. It would be for e-commerce features that not all WhatsApp users might use. But all of them would be forced to agree to the changes. Except for those in the EU where Facebook wouldn’t implement them. We then saw Facebook change its mind a few times on how it would enforce the privacy policy. It ultimately chose not to block WhatsApp access for those who did not accept the new terms. And, in the future, Facebook will finally make the privacy policy optional.

How it started and where we are

Initially, Facebook threatened users to shut down WhatsApp access if they don’t comply, which led to a massive backlash. The company delayed the privacy policy changes to May 15th. It was a direct response to the huge gains in popularity of competing apps Signal and Telegram. Millions of people flocked to WhatsApp competitors after the privacy policy notification dropped.

Facebook still sent regular prompts to inform users about the imminent changes. The company insisted that the end-to-end encryption that protects chats and calls isn’t going away in its messaging. But it never clearly explained why all WhatsApp users would have to agree to share commerce data with Facebook even if they did not plan on using WhatsApp for commerce purposes.

As the deadline approached, it seemed like Facebook would go forward with its threat and cripple the WhatsApp experience for those who did not accept the changes. But then the Indian government intervened, forcing Facebook to reconsider its “nuclear” option. Facebook said in late May that it would not limit the functionality of WhatsApp accounts that do not agree to the terms.

But, three months later, the company still shows prompts to users who have not agreed to the new privacy policy changes. And those who agreed can’t go back.

WhatsApp’s privacy policy will soon be optional

However, Facebook will finally make the privacy policy optional, as it should have been from the start. The news comes from WABetaInfo, a blog that often shares new WhatsApp features before Facebook announces them.

WhatsApp will soon announce that you can use WhatsApp to chat with family and friends without accepting the new privacy policy. Chatting with family and friends is what WhatsApp users usually do on the app.

The blog also explains when you’ll have to agree to the new privacy policy. The moment you want to chat to business accounts, you’ll have to accept the terms. That’s precisely the kind of privacy policy change implementation that people have been asking for. At no point since early 2021 did Facebook consider offering the feature.

Facebook said in previous remarks that most WhatsApp users had already accepted the new terms of service before the earlier deadlines. Facebook didn’t offer any figures, but WhatsApp remains the world’s biggest chat platform. Tens of millions of people downloaded Signal and Telegram in early 2021, but this leaves hundreds of millions of WhatsApp users. They either accepted the terms, or they’re still closing the notification every few days.

In other words, a problem remains with this approach. It’s unclear what will happen with the users who agreed to the privacy policy changes. Will they be able to roll back their decision now that the new terms of service update are optional?

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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