Facebook’s Recent Updates to WhatsApp: Where Does the User Stand?

01-Feb-2021 11:07 AM Content Marketing

Recently, we heard that Google had indexed private WhatsApp group chat links. Anyone in the know of a private chat group could search for the link on the internet and join the group.

Juxtapose this with a recent WhatsApp announcement that it was updating its terms of service and privacy policy. Understandably, people were confused and worried for the safety of their data and private conversations because, let’s be real, Facebook doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to privacy. Haven’t we learned from experience that when WhatsApp says its users’ data is secure, we must take the claim with a pinch of salt?

WhatsApp has clarified the changes won’t affect its users’ privacy in any way. Mostly, the changes deal with how WhatsApp will share information with Facebook going forward. But is there any cause for concern? Or is it just another routine update? Let us address a few of these issues. 

Are your chats on WhatsApp safe?   

At least at Verbinden Communications, we think your WhatsApp data is secure. Let us explain why. WhatsApp claims it has enabled end-to-end encryption on its messaging service, which means only people to whom the message is addressed can see them.  

No one else, not even WhatsApp, has access to your chats. However, there is an option to export those chats outside WhatsApp, and this is where the leaks are most likely to happen. But if the changes don’t affect personal chats, what are they about?

Facebook said, the recent updates to WhatsApp’s privacy policy and Terms of Service are related to ‘WhatsApp for Business’ and not private messages between family or friends. In particular, the changes relate to ‘optional’ WhatsApp for Business features. And what exactly are these features 

Better customer service   

Customers think it is useful to speak with businesses before purchasing a product (or service), ask questions, or get information, like purchase receipts. Now, after the changes, it will be much simpler to speak to businesses on Facebook. Some businesses are also looking for a safe hosting service, which Facebook iplanning to offer in the future.  

But if a business uses this service to reach out to customers, it will be clearly labeled as such so customers can choose if they would like to respond or not. 

Better shopping experience   

Many customers are now comfortable shopping on Facebook or Instagram. Now, businesses with Shops on these social media sites can continue to shop on their WhatsApp for Business profile.  

It means, if they see products on Facebook or Instagram, they can purchase them through WhatsApp. And if the customer chooses to buy a product, WhatsApp will let them know what type of data will be shared with Facebook.  

Finding out about new businesses   

Facebook and Instagram users often see business ads that they can message through a WhatsApp call-to-action button. Now, Facebook will use this data to deliver customized ads on Facebook. But like before, any messages between these businesses and the user on WhatsApp will not be visible to any third party.  

These changes were communicated to WhatsApp users through an in-app notification recently. It came with a request that users must decide whether they accept the changes or not by February 8th. But with it also came a threat that if users don’t accept the changes by that date, their services will be discontinued. 

Why did Facebook push the date for adoption of the new changes to May? 

A spate of leaks of private WhatsApp chats in recent times and users’ push back against ever-tightening control of their personal lives by big businesses has turned the spotlight on ideas such as data privacy. 

Naturally, when WhatsApp made the changes, people started to disagree because there was not enough clarity on privacy issues. Millions of wary users have already switched to alternate messaging services such as Signal, which offers a better security architecture. 

Eventually, WhatsApp and Facebook saw the writing on the wall and understood that they couldn’t force such things down people’s throats. Consequently, Facebook made a new announcement, pushing the date for acceptance of the proposed changes to May.  

Whatever happens, this incident has brought the ever-escalating conversation about data privacy to the fore, birthing a situation where customers are more knowledgeable about their rights and want to have a say in any change that might disrupt their lives.