Facebook Starts Taking User Data from WhatsApp

WhatsApp Privacy Promises

Respect for user privacy is one of the key features that has been repeatedly highlighted by Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp. When Facebook bought the messaging service in 2014, we saw a number of allegations and user concerns about WhatsApp sharing its data with the social networking giant. Koum had insisted that it would never happen. Today, the company has started to relax some of its privacy promises.

"We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that," Koum had promised after Facebook acquired the company. Having over a billion users makes WhatsApp a rich data goldmine, but WhatsApp wasn't interested in using any of that data. Now, the company is "looking ahead," and it starts with sharing a limited amount of user data with Facebook.

WhatsApp said on Thursday that it would start disclosing phone numbers and analytics data with Facebook, to offer better friend suggestions. By mapping a user's social connections across the two networks, the company plans to deliver more relevant ads on the social network, and to explore how WhatsApp can help businesses to connect with their customers. It will be the first time in two years that WhatsApp has connected its user accounts and usage metrics to Facebook.

Today, we’re updating WhatsApp’s terms and privacy policy for the first time in four years, as part of our plans to test ways for people to communicate with businesses in the months ahead.

Whether it's hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight... We want to test these features in the next several months...

Targeted ads on Facebook - business communications on WhatsApp

The change in policy begins a new era for the company as this is the first time that WhatsApp is building a moneymaking business, rather than offering a product that had nothing to do with businesses, ads, or spam. "We do not want you to have a spammy experience," the company assures its users. The data would be used to show more targeted ads on Facebook, and not on WhatsApp itself. As for the businesses, users will be able to block marketing offers or messages about sales. Users will also be able to opt out of sharing their information with Facebook for a limited time, and those who don't opt out, their information won't be shared by Facebook to anyone.

WhatsApp offers a clean usage experience without benefiting from user data to serve ads. Now, with businesses joining the equation, it will be interesting to see how the service evolves into a product that is profitable to the company while managing to keep its place as the most favorite messaging service. "We want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam,” WhatsApp said in today's blog post announcing the privacy policy changes.

If taken as a standalone product, this was a natural step for a popular messaging service to allow businesses to directly contact customers using its platform, something that is already being done by other services. However, what will possibly annoy the users the most is the company's long-standing policy of digital privacy that is now starting to loosen a bit.

Many are likely to be critical about these changes as it gives out a strong message of what's to come next after WhatsApp has decided to share some of its user information. WhatsApp, however, insists that it won't share, sell, or give user details to advertisers. WhatsApp was praised for building powerful end-to-end encryption, and the company has promised that encryption will keep protecting users' privacy. "Even as we coordinate more with Facebook in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them."

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