January 15, 2021 - 5 minutes read
ICT

What’s up WhatsApp? The truth behind the new privacy policy

By Acha Ouma

Introduction

WhatsApp is a free, multiplatform messaging app that lets you make video and voice calls, send text messages, and more with just a Wi-Fi connection. It is owned by Facebook (Facebook acquired it in 2014 for US$19.3 billion)  and currently has over 12 million users Kenya. WhatsApp’s global popularity is due in large part to its accessibility, cross-platform functionality, and simple, straightforward features. In January 2018, WhatsApp released a standalone business app targeted at small business owners, called WhatsApp Business, to allow companies to communicate with customers who use the standard WhatsApp client.

Sometime in January 2021, WhatsApp updated its terms and privacy policy to include more information on how they process its users’ data, how Facebook can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats and how they partner with Facebook to offer integrations across the Facebook Company products. Agreeing to the new terms and privacy policy is only optional until the 8th of February 2020, after that it will be mandatory to agree to the terms to continue using their services.

To begin with, the update will not be offering WhatsApp services for any individual or business that does not accept its new terms and privacy policy. This update notice has not been received kindly and this can be seen in the uproar in the online conversations on the terms and privacy policy. It is also evident that many WhatsApp service users while being unclear about the exact meaning of the the terms and privacy policies, are uncomfortable with the kind of information that may be shared and feel that their private information is compromised. 

WhatsApp has and will continue to have access to the following information:

  1. Account information – This includes phone numbers and basic information. In fact, you cannot even have a WhatsApp Business Account if you do not give this information.
  1. Messages – WhatsApp will have access to your messages. However, they will not be stored in their servers after they are delivered. If delivered, they keep it in encrypted form for 30 days then it is deleted. Forward messages are stored temporarily but in encrypted form. When you delete your account, all this information will be deleted from their servers as well, except the information shared with groups.
  1. Contacts – This includes those saved in your devices address book and broadcast list. Contacts that you are in groups with will also be included as being part of your account information.
  1.  Status information.
  2. Transactions and payments data – WhatsApp intends to process data used for purchases, payment to accounts and transaction information. This includes information about payment options.
  1. Customer support and other communications – This is with WhatsApp itself. WhatsApp may need you to send conversations between you (You and WhatsApp) if you contact them for any form of customer service.

There is also information that WhatsApp will collect automatically:

  1. Usage and log information.

This includes the activity on WhatsApp including interactions with others, duration of time spent using the service, performance logs and reports. This includes the time when you registered for WhatsApp service. They will also automatically collect information features such as messaging, status and groups. 

  1. Device and connection information.

This means that WhatsApp will know the particular device that you are using for your Business Account down to the hardware model, operating information systems information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information, mobile operator, language and time zone and identifiers including those Facebook Company products relating to the same device or account, this includes other online platforms owned by Facebook. 

  1. Location information

WhatsApp will collect your location information, this includes locations that you search for, those that you may share with clients and those that clients share with you. It will do this with your permission, you can either accept or deny WhatsApp access to location details. Even after denying WhatsApp location information access, it can still use other ways to get to know a general estimate of your location through IP addresses, area code and other information. WhatsApp says that they need to collect this information for diagnostics and troubleshooting.

  1. Cookies

Facebook is now looking to use WhatsApp to generate advertisements through generating information from WhatsApp activity. Cookies will be of help to your business as advertisements on their services and products will be targeted at specific users. WhatsApp is however yet to give dates on when they intend to do this. These advertisements may come at a fee meaning WhatsApp Business account holders may need to part with a fee for this to be enabled however this is not quite determined yet.

WhatsApp will collect information about you from third parties:

WhatsApp can receive information about you from other users just as it can receive information about other users from you. It can also receive information about you from other users if they report you, they will collect information on both the reported user and the reporting user.

Businesses will need to give third-party service providers, including other Facebook companies access to its communications to send, store, read, manage, or otherwise process them for the business. This will only be to the extent that is permissible by law.

WhatsApp says that they use the information they collect to operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market their Services. 

HOW WHATSAPP WORKS WITH OTHER FACEBOOK COMPANIES

The most questioned part about the new terms and privacy policy has been the sharing of information with other Facebook Companies and what they intend for these third parties to do with the information. Here is what you need to know:

When users use third-party services or other Facebook Company products that are integrated with WhatsApp Services, the third-party services may receive information about what you or others share with them. It is important to note that when you use third-party services or other Facebook Company Products, their own terms and privacy policies will govern your use of those services and products alongside those of the WhatsApp service itself. WhatsApp may use the information they receive from clients and they may use the information you share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market their Services and their offerings, including the Facebook Company Products. This includes, allowing clients to connect your and their Facebook Pay account to pay for things on WhatsApp.

The new WhatsApp terms and privacy policy also mean that in the event that they are involved in a merger, acquisition, restructuring, bankruptcy, or sale of all or some of their assets, they will share user information with the successor entities or new owners in connection with the transaction in accordance with applicable data protection laws. The concern with this is that the countries or territories to which your information is transferred may have different privacy laws and protections than what we have in Kenya.

SO HOW IS THE NEW POLICY DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS ONE?

The new policy is clearer on what exactly they are sharing, with who, how and why as opposed to the previous one. 

When it comes to WhatsApp business, the actual content shared as well as a whole lot of content that is automatically collected. The business itself will get information that users share with them, which then goes to the control of the business, which then may be shared with WhatsApp which then shares with other Facebook companies. The problem with this would be that businesses as well as their users don’t really have control over the information that is shared across platforms.

WhatsApp has also provided disclosure about Facebook Companies. WhatsApp makes it clear that they will share the information with other Facebook companies. It also makes it clear that the privacy policies that will be used to govern shared information depend on privacy policies of the platform that the information is shared to. 

It is also clear about what happens when you delete your account. The information that you share with other groups remains with the server and this information will be subject to whatever other terms that they have, however, personal information will be deleted.

To clear the air, WhatsApp specified that these new terms and privacy policy will apply to WhatsApp Business holders. So, what is WhatsApp Business and what is it about?

Difference Between the Standard WhatsApp and WhatsApp Business.

WhatsApp is focused more on personal conversations or use while WhatsApp Business is a tool so that small businesses owners will have a market, sell and provide customer support.

For the standard WhatsApp, you create a profile that includes a name, phone number and a picture while for WhatsApp Business, you not only have an image but you can also include a map of where you are based, the type of business, the days, times and hours that you are open, contact information including the business’ websites/ website, email address. You can then have the account verified so that customers can be sure of who they are dealing with.

Summary of what you get at face value:

WhatsAppWhatsApp Business
NameName
Profile pictureProfile picture
StatusDescription
Phone numberPhone number
Open and closed hours
Business category
Email
Website
Verified accounts

Marketers are able to get people to WhatsApp their WhatsApp Business through Facebook, this is through a click to WhatsApp feature that Facebook has now added. Perhaps soon, stories ads will roll out.

With WhatsApp business you can do ads within the Facebook platform but for the standard WhatsApp you cannot. WhatsApp business also has important features such as the following:

WhatsApp Business important features
Chat labels(To send broadcasts)
Quick replies(You can send automated messages)
Predetermined messages(You can also have these sent automatically)
Connect to your Facebook page(Across Facebook platforms)

What Else Do You Need To Know About The New Terms And Privacy Policy

It is important to know that WhatsApp has 2 privacy policies, one that applies in the EU and another that applies in the EEA. The difference is that the option that refers to Facebook companies does not apply to the EEA version.

Conclusion

Are there really any privacy concerns or is the updated version just making things more clear? This is a highly educational move in terms of upping the transparency factor. What is now up to users and business owners is to be aware of the implications and to decide whether they are okay living with any risk that they foresee and to decide the measures they will take to protect themselves. This situation is almost a toss of risk versus convenience. 

The most important thing is to try and make sense of what is happening as it is a little complex given the fact that the only real choice is either to agree to the terms or to delete WhatsApp altogether. Before making this decision take a little time to be more prudent by going over the basic principles such as the permissions being taken, the kind of cookies and trackers being used etc.

The basic remains the same across the cyber world, we need to be more careful what we post as there are some inevitable risks that we live within the online world. The less exposure, the safer you are, either way, the first concern about your privacy in the online space should have been of concern once you first got your hand all along, right there and then, your privacy was compromised. Sometimes, we end up trading our privacy for free services.

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