7 things WhatsApp still cannot do post privacy update

After witnessing the online furore following the announcement of its privacy update, WhatsApp has decided to clarify its latest privacy policy and quell any rumours that might be circulating. The platform took to its blog and social media to answer common questions it has received.

WhatsApp also clarified that the policy update "does not affect the privacy of [users'] messages with friends or family in any way". Instead, the update includes changes related to messaging a business entity on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how WhatsApp collects and uses data.

Key updates to the privacy policy include WhatsApp's service and how it processes users' data, how businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats, as well as how it partners Facebook to offer integrations across the Facebook Company products. 

In a post, WhatsApp said it protects and secures one's private messages and broke down the list of things that it cannot do:

1. WhatsApp cannot see one's private messages or hear calls and neither can Facebook;
2. WhatsApp does not keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling;
3. WhatsApp does not share users' contacts with Facebook;
4. WhatsApp cannot see users' shared location and neither can Facebook;
5. WhatsApp groups remain private;
6. Users can set their messages to disappear; and
7. Users can download their data.

It emphasised that data from groups is not shared with Facebook for ads purposes and the private chats are end-to-end encrypted.

Hence, the content cannot be seen. Also, WhatsApp only accesses phone numbers from users' address book when permission is granted, to ensure messaging is fast and reliable. Contact lists are not shared with the other apps Facebook offers. When users share locations with one another, it is also protected by end-to-end encryption, which means no one can see their location except the people they share with, WhatsApp explained.

With more than 175 million people messaging a WhatsApp Business account daily, WhatsApp said it wants to make the process easier for users. Sravanthi Dev, communications director, WhatsApp told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that businesses using the WhatsApp Business API today often use an additional service provider to host and manage their messages. With this update, they will soon have the option to store and manage their WhatsApp chats with customers using Facebook’s secure hosting infrastructure. "This will help reduce onboarding time from a matter of weeks or months to a matter of minutes, and will help more people get responses from businesses faster," Dev said.

WhatsApp said whether users communicate with a business by phone, email, or WhatsApp, businesses can see what they saying and may use that information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook. Hence, it clearly labels conversations with businesses that are choosing to use hosting services from Facebook. Additionally, should users interact with Shops on WhatsApp, their shopping activity can be used to personalise their Shops experience and the ads they see on Facebook and Instagram. According to WhatsApp, features like this are optional and when used, it will inform users in the app how their data is being shared with Facebook.

(Read more: Analysis: Privacy outrage around WhatsApp valid, but update inevitable?)

Meanwhile, users might see an ad on Facebook with a button to message a business using WhatsApp. If they have WhatsApp installed on their phones, they will have the option to message that business. WhatsApp said Facebook may use the way they interact with these ads to personalise the ads they see on Facebook. MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to WhatsApp for additional information.

According to WhatsApp's privacy policy, among the list of automatically collected information include device and connection-specific information, location information, cookies as well as usage and log information. Other types of information it collects include messages, connections, status, and transactions and payments data.

Recent privacy concerns surrounding WhatsApp have resulted in over 100,000 users installing Signal, according to Reuters, and more than 2.2 million users downloading Telegram, according to Sensor Tower. New installs of WhatsApp also dipped 11% in the first seven days of 2021 compared with the previous week. Turkish anti-trust officials also recently launched an investigation into Facebook and WhatsApp following the privacy update, Bloomberg reported.

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