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WhatsApp users get prompt to accept new terms of service, privacy policies

WhatsApp, Threema

WhatsApp is alerting its users globally with an in-app notification about updates to its terms of service and privacy policies. It told users that those who do not consent to its changed policies will be unable to use the application thereafter. The Facebook-owned messaging app’s new sets of policies — which were changed last on January 4, 2021 — will go live on February 8, 2021.

The new policies are largely expanded and better-explained versions of their existing conditions, with some new additions. The updated policies (terms of service and privacy) contain language on how user data is processed by the company. It also has new sections on how businesses can use WhatsApp to communicate with each other, likely in line with Facebook’s push to generate more revenue from the messaging app. Additionally, the policies deal with connections within the Facebook’s “family of apps and products”.

It is important to note that Facebook is currently working on integrating WhatsApp closely into its larger ecosystem. In an earnings call in October 2020, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had indicated a “connected interoperable system” where WhatsApp, Instagram and and Messenger app could be used interchangeably. Only recently, Messenger app and Instagram were integrated with a “cross-messaging” feature.

What’s changed in the new policies

  • Granular permissions for location: WhatsApp said it has optional features that require the collection of additional information. If users choose to not provide the information required for the functioning of those features, they will be unable to use it. For example, the company said, users won’t be able to share locations with others users in chats if they don’t allow the app to get location data. At the same time, even if users disable location services for WhatsApp, the app can still use their IP addresses and phone area codes to estimate general location (example, city and country).
  • Usage and log information: The updated privacy policy, unlike the previous one, goes into detail about what data it collects for telemetry and analytics. “We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information.” This includes data about how users use WhatsApp; their service settings; how they interact with others on WhatsApp (including when interacting with a business); time, frequency and duration of activity; log files and diagnostic, crash, website and performance logs and reports.

    “This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.” — WhatsApp Privacy policy

  • WhatsApp will stop identifying non-users in users’ address books: The app currently allows users to share contact cards from their devices’ address books. The updated privacy policy says non-users of WhatsApp will not be identified. ” If any of your contacts aren’t yet using our Services, we’ll manage this information for you in a way that ensures those contacts cannot be identified by us,” it says.
  • Device and connection information: Both the updated and new policies mention the collection of device and connection-specific information such as hardware model, operating system information,  browser information, IP address, mobile network information including phone number and device identifier. In addition, the new policy also specified the collection of other information like battery level, signal strength, app version, and identifiers unique to Facebook Company products such as Onavo and CrowdTangle.
  • Use of WhatsApp by businesses: Businesses on WhatsApp may share information about their interaction with regular users to the company. Additionally, the company alerts its users that content shared with business accounts could be accessible to third-party service providers as well.

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