What Facebook and WhatsApp’s Data Sharing Plans Really Mean for User Privacy
Broader data sharing
If you use both WhatsApp and Facebook, this change will give Facebook access to several pieces of your WhatsApp information, including your WhatsApp phone number, contact list, and usage data (e.g. when you last used WhatsApp, what device you used it on, and what OS you ran it on). With confusing wording, the update correctly points out that your phone number and messages will not be shared onto Facebook. This means that your data will not be shared publicly on your Facebook page or anywhere else on Facebook’s platform. Instead, it will be shared with Facebook—that is, Facebook systems and the “Facebook family of companies.” While WhatsApp’s privacy-friendly end-to-end encryption remains, and the company ensures users it will not share their data directly with advertisers, this nevertheless presents a clear threat to users’ control of how their WhatsApp data is shared and used.
Law enforcement policy lags behind
With tech companies often acting as the sole gatekeepers between user data and law enforcement, transparency from tech companies regarding data requests is often the only way to give users a chance to get a lawyer, fight overly broad subpoenas, and understand when and why their data is being accessed. Knowing that a certain company is committed to giving users notice could even make law enforcement stop and think twice about unnecessarily broad requests. If WhatsApp is going to move forward with more direct data sharing with private companies, it also needs to make this long overdue commitment regarding public authorities.
Permanent changes and bigger questions
Until September 25, existing WhatsApp users can change their settings to prevent Facebook from suggesting friends or serving ads based on WhatsApp data. We offer a step-by-step guide here.