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What, how, and why WhatsApp is collecting data; Users can still opt out

fight club meme

Sigh. How far WhatsApp has come from living by Tyler Durden’s words.

Facebook-owned messaging company WhatsApp said yesterday that it will be collecting user data including phone numbers, usage patterns, status and login information to perform analytics and for “people (users) to communicate with businesses”. Further such information will also be shared with Facebook and Facebook’s family of apps so that it can track basic metrics like how often users utilize services. By connecting a user’s phone number with Facebook’s servers, “Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads (on timeline) if you have an account with them,” said the company in a statement.

However the company pledges that it will not display banner ads as a policy, and that it will not share phone numbers with third-party advertisers or on Facebook timeline or users on Facebook, and on other features.

Users can choose to opt-out: Note that WhatsApp users can nevertheless choose not share such information with Facebook by opting out of it from the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy settings. Users will have to agree to all terms and policies stated, and within 30 days of agreeing, you can still choose not to share account information from Account settings section. More on this here. But these developments seems to be different from what WhatsApp promised while being acquired by Facebook in 2014.

WhatsApp once promised not to collect user data

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Many critics and users raised concerns about their privacy when Facebook acquired WhtasApp and that time in March 2014, the company took on the criticism and pledged to protect user’s sensitive information and other related data:

“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that… If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it.”

All this is changing; well at least most of it is.

Why the company is collecting data

WhatsApp says that it will continue to operate as a separate or standalone service from Facebook, but will still share some user information with it and with “the Facebook family of companies”. This according to the company will allow it to fight spam, improve user experience across both Facebook services and WhatsApp. For example, WhatsApp will be able to more accurately count unique users, and if you are a Facebook user, you might see better friend suggestions and more relevant ads on Facebook.

WhatsApp to replace SMSes: Interestingly, the company has also hinted on plans to replace SMS with WhatsApp messages for example to receive balance or transactions related updates from your bank, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight. It also hinted on tying up with third party businesses and other service providers so that they can directly forward details such as a doctor’s appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and marketing messages straight to your WhatsApp inbox. Messages being forwarded by such businesses will also marketing/promotional ads such as an offer for products or services that might interest you.

However WhatsApp pledges not to spam you:

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We do not want you to have a spammy experience; as with all of your messages, you can manage these communications, and we will honor the choices you make.Many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls. We want to test these features in the next several months, but need to update our terms and privacy policy to do so,” added the company.

What data is being collected

Facebook and its associated services will have access to data such as the phone number provided while registering with WhatsApp, the last time you used the service, location, etc. But WhatsApp says that sensitive data including your messages, photos, and other conversations will be secured by end-to-end encryption and will no be visible to anyone else other than the sender and receiver. Even though your account information, will be shared with Facebook or with apps, users on these sites will not have access to it.

A gist of information that WhatsApp will collect from you:

Usage and Log Information: Service-related data such as diagnostic, and performance information from within the WhatsApp will be recorded. This includes information about your user activity pattern like how you use WhatsApp, how you interact with others using it, log files, diagnostic and crash reports, referral websites, and performance logs and reports.

Transactional Information: Sometimes users pay for using services within WhatsApp, and information including order confirmations, payment receipts, from other app stores or third parties processing your payment will be collected.

Device and Connection Information: Device-specific information such as instances of a user installing/uninstalling WhatsApp, and instances of when and how long users have been active on WhatsApp. Apart from this, information such as hardware model, operating system information, browser information, IP address, mobile network information including phone number, and device identifiers will be collected. Device location information will be also be collected when users share locations with contacts, view locations nearby, or those (locations) others users have sent you will also be collected.

Status Information: Information about a user’s online status and instances of status message changes will be recorded. This will include the likes of your “online status”, your “last seen status”, and when you last updated your status message.

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Read the entire updated Privacy Policy and Terms of Service here

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