What you need to know about WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

WhatsApp has updated its privacy policy and terms of service to better integrate with other products and services offered by Facebook. Unlike the release of a new feature or an update that adds new functionality, the instant messaging app has brought the change almost silently earlier this week. Users have till February 8, 2021 to accept these in order to continue using the platform.

What are the new terms and privacy policies?

WhatsApp’s updated terms of service and privacy policies include the following updates:

  • Additional information on how WhatsApp handles your data.

  • Changes in communication with businesses.

  • How WhatsApp shares data with Facebook and its products.

In its ‘Information We Collect’ section, WhatsApp has mentioned, “Our Services have optional features which, if used by you, require us to collect additional information to provide such features. You will be notified of such a collection, as appropriate. If you choose not to provide the information needed to use a feature, you will be unable to use the feature.”

The most notable changes that exist on both updated privacy policy and terms of service are around how WhatsApp shares information with Facebook and its subsidiaries.

Why do I need to accept this policy?

WhatsApp updating its terms of service and privacy policy is not new. Most software services do update their services occasionally. It is standard practice that in order to continue using these services, the user accepts the new conditions and policy. This time, WhatsApp is giving a deadline of February 8, 2021 to accept the new policy or delete your account.

What are the important policy changes?

The older version of the privacy policy, used to start with the following lines: ‘Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA. Since we started WhatsApp, we’ve aspired to build our Services with a set of strong privacy principles in mind.’

Those lines are no longer part of the new privacy policy. However, WhatsApp stays end-to-end encrypted. Which means it can’t see your messages, or share it with anyone. But the new policy suggests an increasing reliance on other Facebook products.

It has further used the example of location sharing and location permissions to try to explain this point. It also mentions that permissions can be managed by Android and iOS users from settings.

WhatsApp will now store your messages and media

One of the updated policies also mentions that WhatsApp will now temporarily store forwarded media on its servers. “When a user forwards media within a message, we store that media temporarily in encrypted form on our servers to aid in more efficient delivery of additional forwards.”

WhatsApp has also said that it stores undelivered messages for a period of 30 days, and if the message is still undelivered, it gets deleted from its servers. “If a message cannot be delivered immediately, we keep it in encrypted form on our servers for up to 30 days as we try to deliver it. If a message is still undelivered after 30 days, we delete it."

WhatsApp will now share data with Facebook and its affiliated companies

WhatsApp has added a new section that mentions how it works with other Facebook companies and how it shares data with them to ‘help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings’.

The information that WhatsApp shares with other Facebook companies includes:

  • Your account registration information.

  • Transaction data.

  • Information on how you interact with others.

  • Mobile device information.

  • Your IP address.

WhatsApp will stop identifying contacts that are not using the app

As part of its new policies, the app will soon stop identifying your contacts that currently do not use its app. “If any of your contacts aren’t yet using our Services, we’ll manage this information for you in a way that ensures those contacts cannot be identified by us.”

If you do not agree with WhatsApp’s new terms and privacy policies, you will not be able to use the app after February 8, 2021.

There are also updates on deleting a WhatsApp account. What does it say?

The new privacy policy highlights that if someone only deletes the WhatsApp app from their device without using the in-app delete my account feature, then that user’s information will remain stored with the platform. So just deleting the app from your phone won’t be enough. It adds that “when you delete your account, it does not affect your information related to the groups you created or the information other users have relating to you, such as their copy of the messages you sent them.”

What about data location and storage?

WhatsApp also clearly mentions in the privacy policy that it uses Facebook’s global infrastructure and data centers, including those in the United States to store user data. This was not explicitly mentioned in the previous policy. It also states that the data in some cases will be transferred to the United States or other parts where Facebook’s affiliate companies are based, adding that “these transfers are necessary to provide the global Services set forth in our Terms.”

WhatsApp’s new policy states that even if a user does not use their location-relation features, they collect “IP addresses and other information like phone number area codes to estimate your general location (city, country).”

What does the privacy policy say about businesses interacting with users?

WhatsApp says that any businesses that users interact with may provide the platform with information as well. The policy further explains content shared with a business on WhatsApp will be visible to “several people in that business.”

It also states that some “businesses might be working with third-party service providers (which may include Facebook) to help manage their communications with their customers.”

In order to understand how the business is handling the information you share with them, WhatsApp also recommends that users read the “business’ privacy policy or contact the business directly.”

What about payments data?

Given WhatsApp has rolled out payments in India and other countries, it is not surprising to see this part of the privacy policy getting expanded further. WhatsApp says that if you use their payments services they will “process additional information about you, including payment account and transaction information.” However, WhatsApp Payments in India has its own dedicated privacy policy.

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