WhatsApp has just announced what we think is a massively controversial change to its Terms of Services. The instant-messaging service which was acquired by Facebook for $16 Billion in February 2014, says that it will begin sharing some of your data with its parent company.
Well, we can’t say we’re surprised, this was about to happen someday. Even WhatsApp hinted about this when it made its service permanently free earlier this year. So why is this happening now?
According to the official statement on WhatsApp’s blog, the service will start sharing your account information with Facebook for better friend suggestions and relevant ads. Allow me to quote a part of the penultimate paragraph from the statement.
WhatsApp claims that this tracking will help it and Facebook to learn how people use its services and to fight spam.
“….by connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of.”
This is pretty bad, and WhatsApp could end up losing a lot of users, especially with Google Allo just around the corner. Telegram anyone?
WhatsApp says that people who use the latest versions of its app will have encryption enabled for their chats, so it will not be available for anyone else. Your WhatsApp photos and videos and account information will not be publicly visible on Facebook either. That means the analytics are only meant to serve ads, and other internal purposes like counting the number of unique users, fight spam abuse, etc.
Nevertheless, it still is a bit controversial but there is a bit of hope left, as WhatsApp does allow you to opt-out of this tracking.
You can either uncheck the option at the end of the new ToS, or, go to WhatsApp’s Settings > Account > Share my account info and uncheck the box which says “Share my account information shared with Facebook to improve your Facebook ads and products experiences.”
The option isn’t available in the latest app yet, so we’re guessing it will be rolled out soon. But there is some bad news about this too, WhatsApp says that regardless of whether you opt-out of the telemetry or not,
The Facebook family of companies will still receive and use this information for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.
This is a bit weird, as it does sound like they are going to collect data either way. Oh and it should be clear that the whole issue only applies to users who have a Facebook account and use WhatsApp.