WhatsApp delays privacy changes that led to user exodus

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has delayed the rollout of its updated privacy policy after an outcry over the changes sent users flocking to smaller rival messaging services Signal and Telegram. 

The encrypted messaging app said the changes, which are being made to reflect its recent push into ecommerce, would be pushed back to mid-May because of “confusion” surrounding the overhaul. 

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms,” it said, adding: “We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp.” 

On January 4, WhatsApp started serving its 2bn users with a pop-up notification asking them to agree to changes covering what data that can be shared between the app and the rest of Facebook, and telling them they would need to agree by early February in order to continue using the app. 

The changes prompted fears — which snowballed online — that WhatsApp users would be compelled to hand over reams of personal data, including the content of their messages, to Facebook for the first time. In fact, neither company is able to view the content of users’ messages.

WhatsApp’s privacy policies have since 2016 allowed it to share certain metadata with its parent company, such as user phone numbers, details on when the app is open and other device information.

The latest update will allow Facebook and WhatsApp to share payments and transactions data in order to help them better target advertising, as Facebook ramps up its investment in features that facilitate more ecommerce across its apps and seeks to merge their messaging functions into one system. 

Merchants communicating with customers via WhatsApp will also be able to store those chats in Facebook-hosted servers, and then use that data to inform their advertising on Facebook, according to the update. 

“While not everyone shops with a business on WhatsApp today, we think that more people will choose to do so in the future and it’s important people are aware of these services,” WhatsApp said on Friday.

It added that it would now allow users “gradually to review the policy at their own pace before [those] new business options are available on May 15”.

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