WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, announced last month that it would delay enforcement of its new privacy terms, following a backlash by confused users that later led to a legal challenge and various regulatory investigations in India. The privacy changes were misinterpreted by WhatsApp users as a sign that the app would begin sharing more data with Facebook, including their private messages. The company is now sharing the next steps it is taking to try to correct the problem and clarify that this is not the case.
The mismanagement of the privacy update on the part of WhatsApp led to extensive confusion and misinformation. In fact, since 2016, after its acquisition by Facebook, WhatsApp has been sharing some data about its users with Facebook.
But the backlash is a solid indication that Facebook has since squandered a great deal of user confidence. People instantly suspected the worst, and as a result, millions fled to alternative messaging apps, such as Signal and Telegram.
Following the outcry, WhatsApp attempted to explain that the privacy update was actually focused on optional business features on the app, which allow a business to see the content of messages between it and the end-user, and give the businesses permission to use that information for its own marketing purposes, including advertising on Facebook. WhatsApp also said it labels conversations with companies that use Facebook hosting services to manage their customer chats, so users were conscious of it.
WhatsApp says it has spent time gathering user feedback and listening to concerns from people in different countries in the weeks since the debacle. The company found that users wanted assurance that WhatsApp was not reading their private messages or listening to their conversations and that their communications were end-to-end encrypted. Users also said they wanted to know that WhatsApp did not maintain logs with Facebook of who they were messaging or sharing contact lists.
These latter concerns seem valid, given that Facebook recently made its Facebook, Messenger and Instagram messaging systems interoperable. One has to wonder when they will make their way to WhatsApp with similar integrations.
Today, WhatsApp says it will release new communications about the privacy update to users, which follows the Status update it provided back in January to clarify points of confusion. (See the following picture)
WhatsApp will start rolling out a small, in-app banner in a few weeks that will ask users to re-examine privacy policies, a move that the company said users have shown to prefer over the pop-up, full-screen warning that it previously showed.
A deeper description of the improvements, including added information on how WhatsApp interacts with Facebook, will be displayed when users click on "to review." The changes stress that the updates from WhatsApp do not affect the privacy of the conversations of users and reiterate the information about the optional business features.
Eventually, to keep using WhatsApp, WhatsApp will start reminding users to review and accept its updates. It will not enforce the new policy until May 15, according to its previous announcement.
Users will still need to be aware that they are not as secure as their private messages in their communication with companies. This affects a rising number of users of WhatsApp, 175 million of whom are now interacting with companies on the app, WhatsApp said in October.
WhatsApp also took a huge dig at competing messaging apps in today's blog post about the changes, which used the uncertainty about the privacy update to draw in the fleeing WhatsApp users by encouraging the privacy of their own app.
"We've seen some of our rivals try to get away with claiming that they can't see messages from people-if an app doesn't offer end-to-end encryption by default, it means they can read your messages," read the blog post from WhatsApp.
This appears to be a statement directly aimed at Telegram, which frequently promotes its "heavily encrypted" messaging program as a more private option. But, as applications like WhatsApp and Signal do, Telegram doesn't provide end-to-end encryption by default. It uses "transport layer" encryption that protects the user's access to the server, clarified in January by a Wired article citing cybersecurity professionals. When users want their one-on-one chats to have an end-to-end encrypted experience, they can instead allow the "secret chats" function. (And for community chats, this feature isn't even available.)
Furthermore, WhatsApp fought back against the characterization that it is somehow less reliable because users have some restricted data.
"Some applications claim they're better because they know far less data than WhatsApp. "We believe that people are looking for applications that are both reliable and secure, even if that requires WhatsApp to have some limited information," read the post. "We strive to be thoughtful about the choices we make and we will continue to develop new ways with less information, not more, to fulfill these responsibilities," it noted.
Source Tech Crunch