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WhatsApp’s controversial new privacy policy is here – what you need to know

Published May 15th, 2021 3:06PM EDT
WhatsApp Privacy Policy
Image: PhotoPlus+/Adobe

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Facebook announced plans to update the WhatsApp terms of services last October, but it was WhatsApp’s subsequent notifications in early 2021 that shocked users, telling them they’ll have to agree to share more data with Facebook or risk losing access to WhatsApp. The backlash was immediate and brutal, with millions of people downloading competing chat apps like Signal and Telegram in January. Facebook mounted a massive defense, delaying the terms of service change deadline to May 15th in order to better explain the planned changes.

Facebook has made it clear since January that WhatsApp will not lose the default end-to-end encryption that all chats and calls get, and the company recently announced that WhatsApp users who do not agree to the new privacy policy will not be banned from the platform. But there’s no way to reject the terms or block Facebook from collecting data starting May 15th.

Now that the deadline has arrived, your options are limited. You can accept the new terms and continue using WhatsApp just like before, or you can ignore the prompt and either delete the app or use it in a significantly limited capacity.

Facebook has never truly explained what sort of data will collect or why it needs that data, causing plenty of confusion in the process. The e-commerce user data that Facebook wants from WhatsApp will only be there if users choose to use WhatsApp as a vehicle for buying goods or staying in touch with companies.

A report from The Guardian details Facebook’s intentions better than Facebook did or would ever want to. Analysts have told the paper that the real reason this privacy policy change is vital for Facebook is simple: The company wants to turn the service into the western equivalent of WeChat. That’s a popular chat app in China that also handles various other tasks. Users can buy and sell products on the platform, pay for utility bills, play games, and even contact essential government services. Facebook has been looking to turn WhatsApp into an “everything app” since 2014 when it purchased the chat app for nearly $20 billion.

The Guardian also points out that Facebook’s plan to have users accept the new terms might succeed. Stats from global research platform Appinio show that 95% of Britons have the app installed, yet less than 25% of users know about the planned privacy policy change. Only 15% say they no longer “want” to use the app as a result, but many will likely stick around even after the May 15th changes are enforced.

Going forward, WhatsApp users will be able to browse catalogs of products from small businesses, contact companies, and complete purchases. All of that will happen inside the app while Facebook undoubtedly gathers plenty of data.

Users who disagree with the new terms will no longer be able to take advantage of some WhatsApp features. Starting Saturday, they’ll be unable to dismiss the screen that asks them to accept the new terms. They’ll still receive calls, but replying to messages is only possible via notifications. In the future, even those limited features might go away to the point where the app would be unusable.

A German regulator has already issued an injunction, looking to prevent Facebook from processing WhatsApp data in the country. Facebook contested the order, saying that it will still roll out the new privacy feature. The German watchdog urged peers from other European countries to take similar action.

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.