Starting February 8, WhatsApp will roll out new terms of service (ToS). WhatsApp users must agree to the changes to use the application. And this change to its ToS was as recently as January 4, 2021. Since 2014 WhatsApp has been a subsidiary of Facebook.

Why is WhatsApp changing its ToS?

Facebook Inc has been working to integrate its services across FB Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram as announced by Mark Zuckerberg on October 2020. While Instagram and FB Messenger are already integrated, efforts to follow the same in WhatsApp were doing the rounds. The latest WhatsApp ToS explains how businesses can use the app for B2B or B2C conservation. As WhatsApp is also rolling out its payment options, FB would like to connect that data.

This initiative by WhatsApp may also be rolled out to pre-empt developments in an anti-trust case. The US Federal Trade Commission and various US states have sued Facebook for its monopolist conduct.

Debates to delink WhatsApp from FB and perhaps spun off is doing the rounds.

How does this change in ToS mean for you and me?

This simply means our privacies are impacted. Both WhatsApp and Facebook hold certain information about us but in different silos. When the silos are connected, the company gets to know more information. For example, the company may learn that a given phone number used for WhatsApp is associated with the FB account which may have a separate name or a different number. From February 8, 2020, Facebook will also be able to extract accurate location information when you give WhatsApp the permission to do so. Moreover, FB can distinguish between your contacts on WhatsApp, the interactions, and all the WhatsApp group you belong to, and compare those with Fb contact lists and activities. Furthermore, if you are using the WhatsApp payment services, FB will be able to pick up bank and account details that WhatsApp will pick up.

What data can WhatsApp Share?

Quoting WhatsApp’s new Privacy Policy, “We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), 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.”

The ToS also includes, “information such as hardware model, operating system information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers (including identifiers unique to Facebook Company Products associated with the same device or account).”

“We collect and use precise location information from your device with your permission when you choose to use location-related features, like when you decide to share your location with your contacts or view locations nearby or locations others have shared with you. There are certain settings relating to location-related information which you can find in your device settings or the in-app settings, such as location sharing. Even if you do not use our location-related features, we use IP addresses and other information like phone number area codes to estimate your general location (e.g., city and country). We also use your location information for diagnostics and troubleshooting purposes.”

Should we worry?

Yes. That’s a lot of information at a go. When silos are tied together and not separated, it discloses a lot. Indians should worry more as that school coordination happens through WhatsApp groups as does Resident Welfare Association interactions. When silos are connected information such as, location details, schools, pick up points, pictures; garbage collection, etc will be given out.

Will our WhatsApp stay encrypted?

Though technically, the conversations will remain encrypted, the data sharing option will make leakage more feasible. If you are used to sharing personal information or private conversation on WhatsApp, you should stop.

What if you don’t agree to the new ToS?

Either you agree or you exit. There is practically nothing you can do about it. If exiting is hard, try mitigating efforts. This means, you use a separate sim card for WhatsApp, which is use for nothing else.

Any alternative?

As of now Signal is the best alternative. It’s the   most secure, and groups can be mitigated easily.

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