Honestly? Not really.
[This article was updated to include comments from the Information Regulator.]
Everyone is talking about it – probably, ironically, via WhatsApp: the messaging app recently announced some policy changes. Users have been receiving a pop-up message containing an ultimatum – accept our terms and conditions, or you’ll have to stop using the app come 8 February.
Given how popular WhatsApp is, the news has raised a number of questions. What exactly is changing, how does it affect us, and should we continue using WhatsApp? So we did some digging (and boy… it was a lot!) to help you understand what’s happening with WhatsApp.
What is changing?
Honestly, nothing. WhatsApp only announced that it is further integrating its service with its owner, Facebook. It was not clear what this actually meant to the ordinary user, so the company issued a statement this week clarifying their announcement, saying the update will only affect WhatsApp Business accounts and the people who interact with them. In an article published on MyBroadband, the company said, “There will be no change in data sharing with Facebook for non-business chats and account information, and with regard to business messaging, we are not mandating users to share data.”
But this doesn’t mean WhatsApp hasn’t been sharing some of our information with Facebook already. It’s in the fine print.
You get the picture. Information sharing is NOT new. You can read more about that here.
Can WhatsApp read my messages?
No! This is because of something called “end-to-end encryption”. Murray Hunter, a data privacy expert, explained that this means any message you send to your contacts is secured on your phone in an uncrackable code. The code is decoded only once it arrives on the receiver’s device. Anyone between that, including Facebook and WhatsApp, can’t read the message, he said. So, no CIA agent will come knocking on your door asking why you were talking about the Illuminati. (We have some questions, though. 👀)
Okay, so how will this ACTUALLY affect me?
WhatsApp said it will label businesses who choose to use Facebook as a hosting service, so you’ll know if you’re interacting with one.
“Some businesses will display their goods right within WhatsApp so people can see what’s available to buy. If you choose to interact with shops, your shopping activity can be used to personalise your shop’s experience and the ads you see on Facebook and Instagram.” (Facebook also owns Instagram.)
So why does WhatsApp want my data?
Basically? Capitalism. They want to make more money. As Emma Sadlier, a social media law expert, explained in a video published on YouTube on January 11:
“We know that Facebook is a company that is out to make money. This is not a charity who just dreamt up how to give us cool stuff for free. We know Facebook, as much as we don’t pay for it with money, we pay with every morsel of information that we give them.”
You may have seen this in action already: Google “how to make banana bread” once, and suddenly your Instagram, Facebook and even Google news feed will feature more bananas and more baked goods.
Should I be concerned?
If you’re not worried about sharing your data then, no. But data sharing is a cause for concern for many people, which is why you may have heard about people migrating to Telegram or Signal – read more about them here. But the thing that stirred panic since the announcement is WhatsApp publishing the terms and conditions in a way that forces users to agree.
“Essentially, they’re giving us no choice, and that leaves users feeling disempowered,” Hunter told explain.
“So when people say ‘nothing is changing with this latest policy’ what they’re missing is that there is nothing reassuring about the status quo. The policy might not make things significantly worse, but things are already not good enough,” he said.