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Facebook is now spamming WhatsApp users with privacy stories

Published Feb 1st, 2021 7:31AM EST
WhatsApp Privacy Policy
Image: JLO_FOTO/Adobe

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  • Facebook is using the Status feature of WhatsApp for spamming users with privacy stories following the recent backlash for the planned privacy policy change.
  • The new Status stories were featured around the world, delivering Facebook’s “commitment” to privacy.
  • WhatsApp conversations will continue to be end-to-end encrypted, and the company can’t read or listen to them, the stories explain.

Facebook’s WhatsApp is the world’s most popular instant messenger, an app that supports end-to-end encryption by default and works on iPhone and Android. But Facebook wants to collect more user data from WhatsApp, an app it paid nearly $20 billion several years ago. Facebook reminded WhatsApp users via a prompt in early January that a privacy policy change was scheduled for February 8th. Users could only tap the “agree” button (or postpone the agreement), as there was no way to opt out. To continue using the app, you’d have to agree to Facebook’s new terms or look elsewhere.

In the days that followed, millions of people did exactly that. They looked elsewhere, installing Signal and Telegram on their devices. Facebook found itself having to defend the privacy change. The company put up an infographic and FAQ section that made it clear that end-to-end encryption isn’t going away — but Facebook didn’t really make a great case as to why there’s no opt-out option for this new user data sharing. Facebook also announced it would delay the privacy change by three months to give users more time to understand the changes. Facebook’s latest move to retain WhatsApp users includes spamming them with privacy stories on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp’s default end-to-end encryption isn’t going away; that’s something all WhatsApp users should understand. For many people, that’s the most important feature in a chat app, and WhatsApp isn’t about to ditch it. Apps like iMessage and Signal are also end-to-end encrypted by default, while Telegram supports end-to-end encryption for each chat session, assuming the people involved in the chat enable it.

Facebook is now placing Status messages inside the app to show its “commitment” to privacy. The story updates appeared in the US and UK on Saturday, according to The Verge. Separately, Mashable Pakistan also spotted the Status updates.

The update contains four messages, as follows:

WhatsApp is now on Status! We’ll let you know about new features and updates here.

One thing that isn’t new is our commitment to your privacy.

WhatsApp can’t read or listen to your personal conversations as they’re end-to-end encrypted.

Stay tuned for more updates!

WhatsApp’s commitment to user privacy seems to be related only to end-to-end encryption for the time being. Facebook should also explain as clearly as possible why it needs to collect user data from all WhatsApp customers for business-centric features that only some of them will use. A WhatsApp spokesperson told The Verge that more Status updates would follow:

There’s been a lot of misinformation and confusion around our recent update and we want to help everyone understand the facts behind how WhatsApp protects people’s privacy and security. Going forward, we’re going to provide updates to people in the Status tab so people hear from WhatsApp directly. Our first update reaffirms that WhatsApp cannot see your personal messages, and neither can Facebook, because they are protected by end-to-end encryption.

Meanwhile, Signal is working on new features to make its chat app more similar to WhatsApp. Telegram added a tool that lets users import entire WhatsApp conversations into Telegram, which would allow entire groups of people and families to switch over without losing any data from previous chats.

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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