WhatsApp updates users’ privacy: why nothing changes for us!

WhatsApp updates users’ privacy: why nothing changes for us!

26 January 2021 Off By Oscar Giacomin

There is no conspiracy behind the message from WhatsApp. Simply notification that the new terms of the privacy policy have been postponed to 15 May, 2021.

The message goes something like this: “WhatsApp is updating its terms and privacy policy”. Then: “By tapping Agree, you accept the new terms and privacy policy, which take effect on 15 May, 2021. After this date, you’ll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account and want more information.” 

If you are a user of the most popular instant messaging platform in the world (i.e. WhatsApp), you will have already received this notice. Because the Californian company has been sending it to its users over the last few days. And there has been no lack of perplexity, in some cases resulting in paranoid conspiracies about what will happen to those who use WhatsApp. Also because the phrase “After this date, you’ll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp” has sparked a whole series of reactions. So let’s try to understand what this warning means and, above all, what consequences it implies.

A storm in a teacup. What WhatsApp has announced is a unilateral modification of its terms and conditions of service. Something that often happens with online platforms run by private companies. Here the real point concerns the interaction that WhatsApp wants to have (and can have) with Facebook, another application in the digital galaxy headed by Mark Zuckerberg. Since Facebook acquired WhatsApp (in February 2014, for a sum close to 19 billion dollars), interaction between the 2 apps, namely the sharing of data, has always been the true hidden weapon that enticed Zuckerberg. In recent months, however, this interaction has ended up under the microscope of regulators around the world. Hence the update and the (necessary) warning from WhatsApp. Because this update aims to protect Facebook, which will continue to use data from the instant messaging app, as well as sharing it with Messenger and Instagram. In all this, however, is a classic storm in a teacup. Because in Italy (and in the rest of Europe) this update will have no effect. Starting from the fact that the 2 entities are different: WhatsApp Ireland for European users and WhatsApp Inc for the rest of the world. 

In Europe we are better protected. The warning that has become a bugbear for many users does not apply to the European Union, where very different and often stricter rules apply in terms of privacy protection. The GDPR, which came into force in Europe in May 2018, is a very powerful shield, and prevents WhatsApp from sharing European user data with Facebook. As a spokesperson for WhatsApp clarified, “there are no changes to WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices in the European region, including the UK, arising from the updated terms of service and privacy policy. WhatsApp does not share European region user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or advertisements.” If WhatsApp ever wanted to share European user data one day, it would have to find an agreement with the European regulator. Currently no such agreement exists. 

The changes to WhatsApp Business. Regarding WhatsApp Business, the messaging service used by company accounts, things are slightly different. In this case (but this has already been known for months) companies can archive the conversations they have with users/customers. And then use them for commercial purposes. But that, for now, is another story.

Oscar Giacomin  / General Manager, Facto Edizioni

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