Millions of people around the world are considering abandoning WhatsApp, the famous instant messaging platform, and switching to alternatives that users believe offer better data and privacy protection following the announcement of changes to the ways the app shares information with its parent company, Facebook.
Last week, WhatsApp asked its more than 2 billion global users to agree to new terms regarding how they share their personal information with Facebook.
What changes, then? From February 8th, to continue using Whatsapp, the new conditions must be accepted. In Italy and in the rest of Europe, where the GDPR privacy regulation has been in force since 2018, the changes are minimal.
The move, however, triggered a protest from WhatsApp users, with many who decided to download new instant messaging apps considered to be safer, such as Signal and Telegram.
Users’ concerns relate to WhatsApp’s collection of metadata – information that can be extracted and linked to an individual’s device, including their contact list, location, and purchase history.
Users began to get worried when, last week, they started receiving notifications that some of their data could now be shared with parent company Facebook and its other subsidiaries.
Do we really need to start getting worried?
However, despite the general alarmist climate, the new privacy rules do not affect WhatsApp’s most central functionality: end-to-end encryption which ensures that only senders and recipients can see the actual content of messages sent on the platform, at least between individuals.
What will be subject to change under the new rules, however, is how user data is handled when interacting with a business account.
The data collected from customers, in fact, will be shared with Facebook, where they could be used for marketing purposes, such as targeted advertising, or to those who sell on Facebook Shops and can be contacted on WhatsApp. This is the area to watch out for, because Mark Zuckerberg’s intention is to let us use his family of apps for purchases and payments.
“Whether you are communicating with a company by phone, email or WhatsApp, the company can access your information and conversations and use it for their own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook,” we can read on a WhatsApp blog post outlining the new arrangement.
“We want to be clear that updating the policy in no way affects the privacy of your messages with friends or family.”
According to WhatsApp, some of the changes that affect the way a person’s data is handled are optional. Additionally, when data is shared with Facebook, users will also receive a notification on the app explaining how it is used, while companies using Facebook hosting services will be clearly labeled.
To change or not to change?
Both Signal and Telegram were the beneficiaries of the WhatsApp problems. According to Signal earlier this week, it continued to “break traffic records,” while Telegram said Tuesday it had added 25 million users in the previous three days.
For the time being, however, these platforms are not suited to completely replace WhatsApp, for the simple reason that they cannot yet compete with its base of over 2 billion users.