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Following backlash, WhatsApp to show in-app banner explaining privacy policy

WhatsApp, Threema

WhatsApp is making another attempt to curb the backlash it faced over changes to its privacy policy and terms of service: over the coming weeks, it will display a banner in WhatsApp with information about the changes, the company announced in a blog post. The company had earlier deferred the implementation of its policy by three months—to May 15—in a bid to buy more time from the fallout, which saw two legal challenges, and the company being reprimanded by India’s IT Ministry.

WhatsApp announced changes to its privacy policy in January that led to widespread debate, as the changes amount to a deeper integration between the messaging app and Facebook’s other verticals. The policy—which is mandatory for users to accept—said that the service will use a device’s IP address, and other information like phone number area codes to estimate their general location, even if a user doesn’t use the its location-related features. Businesses that users interact with on the platform may share information about their interactions with users, with Facebook.

One important thing to note here is that WhatsApp has made no commitment towards reviewing the changes to its policy. So far, it has only insisted that it will allow users more time so that they properly understand the policy.

WhatsApp also said that enabling business on the platform was among the ways it could afford keeping the app free. “We charge businesses to provide customer service on WhatsApp – not people. Some shopping features involve Facebook so that businesses can manage their inventory across apps. We display more information directly in WhatsApp so people can choose if they want to engage with businesses, or not,” the company said.

What the in-app banner will look like

India’s IT Ministry had sent a letter to WhatsApp in January, interrogating changes the Facebook-owned messaging app had made to its privacy policy. “These changes enable WhatsApp, and other Facebook Companies, to make invasive and precise inferences about users which may not be reasonably foreseen or expected by users in the ordinary course of accessing these services,” MEITY had said in the letter. MEITY also asked several questions from the company over the changes, including whether WhatsApp profiles Indian citizens, and whether it collects data of other apps running on a smartphone, among other things.

WhatsApp’s policy changes had left many a users concerned, which saw a massive migration to apps like Telegram and Signal. However, in the blog post, WhatsApp hit out at both of these apps, without actually naming them. “We’ve seen some of our competitors try to get away with claiming they can’t see people’s messages – if an app doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default that means they can read your messages,” WhatsApp said in a possible reference to Telegram, where users have to initiate secret chats for end-to-end encryption.

In a possible reference to Signal, WhatsApp said, “other apps say they’re better because they know even less information than WhatsApp. We believe people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe, even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data.”

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