• WhatsApp is having another go at explaining its privacy policy to users

    WhatsApp has a new plan to explain its contentious privacy policy — the one that came under fire when users grew concerned the platform would share their messages with parent company Facebook. In an announcement on Thursday, the company explained how users can read through the new policy and learn how business and personal messages — which have different privacy standards — are handled.

    The new privacy policy primarily concerns messaging businesses on WhatsApp and what parts of your data those businesses have access to. Most WhatsApp messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning they can only be accessed by the people actually talking. But WhatsApp also lets users message businesses, and those messages aren’t extended the same protections. The data in business messages can be used for commercial purposes like ad targeting on Facebook, and some of them are also stored on Facebook’s servers. WhatsApp’s privacy policy was an attempt to explain that change, but many users interpreted it as WhatsApp comprising the privacy focus it was known for.

    Image: WhatsApp
    WhatsApp’s new banner and privacy policy explainer.

    Ahead of the new May 15th launch (moved from February 8th), WhatsApp plans to offer users the ability to review this new privacy policy inside its app. The company already tried to reassure users through WhatsApp’s Status feature, but now WhatsApp will include a banner that can be tapped to pull up the explanation of the new policy. The company says it will eventually remind users to read the new policy and accept it to continue using the app as well.

    WhatsApp also notes that businesses pay for the right to use WhatsApp to reach customers, and that’s one of the ways WhatsApp is able to provide its app for free. The main features of WhatsApp remain as private as ever. Of course, it’s not as private as some users might think: WhatsApp started sharing some personal information like phone numbers and profile photos with Facebook in 2016 to improve friend recommendations and ads on the app.

    WhatsApp’s tone in this redo of its policy change is somewhat apologetic. It didn’t explain what was changing well enough to users, and it’s owning up to that. But WhatsApp also managed to sneak in a dig at other companies that welcomed the exodus from WhatsApp prompted by the policy:

    During this time, we understand some people may check out other apps to see what they have to offer. 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. 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. We strive to be thoughtful on the decisions we make and we’ll continue to develop new ways of meeting these responsibilities with less information, not more.

    WhatsApp is obliquely referencing Telegram, an app that, along with Signal, seemed to benefit from the confusion over what was changing in WhatsApp. Telegram has dealt with its own criticism over not enabling end-to-end encryption by default — and clearly, WhatsApp doesn’t want you to forget that.

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