Will Whatsapp’s new privacy policy push users away?

The messaging app announced earlier last week a revision to its privacy policy signaling further integration with Facebook over data sharing.
13 January 2021

Will the new privacy policy push people away from Whatsapp? (Photo by Amy Osborne / AFP)

  • All Whatsapp users received a notice, saying that the service will now be sharing user data with other Facebook companies
  • Signal and Telegram reported massive growth since the announcement, according to reports

It is widely known that the popular messaging app WhatsApp has been collecting data from its users since its inception in 2009. Now, a decade later, it is moving towards integrating its database with its parent company Facebook. A newly announced privacy policy would allow the social media giant on a future date resort to targeted advertising and political campaigns based on user information. 

It doesn’t just end there – the privacy policy which will kick into effect on February 8, 2021, raises privacy concerns as it plans to monetize the user data. In hindsight, the announcement comes in stark contrast with what the company initially promised back in 2014 during the acquisition by Facebook. WhatsApp assured its goal is to know “as little as possible”.

The latest Privacy Policy is rolling out globally, however, users located in the European Union received only one bullet point in their notification. Thanks to tighter privacy legislation better known as GDPR, WhatsApp users in 27 European countries will not have their data shared with third parties.

What’s the new privacy policy about?

The gist of WhatsApp’s new privacy policy is that when users rely on “third-party services or other Facebook company products that are integrated with our services, those third-party services may receive information about what you or others share with them.”

It’s important to note that the privacy policy does not change the way WhatsApp treats personal chats. In fact, WhatsApp remains end-to-end encrypted — no third party can read them. In a statement, WhatsApp said “The update does not change WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices with Facebook and does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family. WhatsApp remains deeply committed to protecting people’s privacy”.

While users were able to opt-out until now, starting February 8, they will have only one solution, if they don’t want their data to be owned by the parent company – uninstall the app and stop using the service.

What it means for businesses

The new policy explains how businesses get data when a user interacts with them on the platform: content shared with a business on WhatsApp will be visible to “several people in that business.” This is important because WhatsApp now has over 50 million business accounts. For WhatsApp, this is a monetization model. 

However, the upcoming privacy policy update has resulted in a full-blown WhatsApp backlash that has users fleeing to competitors like Signal and Telegram. According to Sensor Tower, Signal saw approximately 7.5 million installs globally through the Apple App Store and Google Play store between January 6 and January 10. Meanwhile, Telegram saw 5.6 million downloads globally from Wednesday through Sunday, according to Apptopia.

This is especially worrying for retailers who use Whatsapp for their businesses. Even in Whatsapp’s damage control statement issued yesterday, it said, “We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.” 

That said, perhaps retail marketers should consider other messaging apps especially Telegram or Signal, now that the former has almost a quarter of the 2 billion WhatsApp users around the globe.