Whats up with WhatsApp? [Updated]

What a commotion Facebook (Fb) has caused with the changes to the Privacy Policy for WhatsApp that is being forced upon its users. As a result there are a number of issues that Fb is now scrabbling around to resolve which could have been avoided if they’d approached the change in a better way – I can only imagine a few heads will have rolled at Facebook Inc. as a consequence.

First – it only really affects businesses and how they interact (or might want to interact) with WhatsApp …

“The really significant recent update is that WhatsApp has added new features to allow people to communicate with businesses – and those businesses could be hosted by Facebook. When speaking to those contacts, messages might be stored and managed by Facebook, and so those conversations could be shared with the company more generally.

Users should be informed if that happens, however. When speaking to a business who has decided to have its messages managed by Facebook, a message should appear – and users should stop talking to them if they would prefer that information is not shared.”

The Independent, 10th Jan 2021.

Second – it doesn’t apply to users in the European Region (which includes the UK, even post-Brexit). [But will it include the UK after all Fb data is repatriated to California? This is the company’s intention to avoid legal redress under European GDPR.] If they were prepared to commit to this, why didn’t they say this would be the case … forever! Because they can’t, just as they couldn’t omit all European Country Codes from the message. Everything will be open to further change, going forward. Believe me!!

So there’s an issue of trust involved, isn’t there? This is what I addressed in this article on another of my sites – Why do I dislike Facebook (Fb)? – please read the Comments too. Fb is more insidious than I had thought, and my previous advice of Logging out from the app, and website is now relegated from the status of Advice, to just a Recommendation.

So is there an issue, and should we do anything about it?

There have been lots of articles written, including an earlier one of mine – The new WhatsApp Terms and Conditions of Use, but one I particularly like is this one – Will WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy Make You Look for a New Messaging Service? I urge you to read it.

In the short-term there isn’t an issue, because it doesn’t apply to users in the European Region, and is mainly intended as an incentive to businesses to use the Facebook platform. But perhaps we don’t want the inconvenience of disconnecting from a business online when conducting an online purchase, and just note this wording from the Facebook site – which I wasn’t aware of …

“When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook.”

… quite chilling really. It means that if you visit a site that has a connection to Fb, ie uses Facebook services, then Fb will use that information gleaned by that connection and can potentially pass it on to others. Hence the concern for information from WhatsApp users being passed on. It’s the uncertainty, and the lack of trust.

Last year, in July 2020, WhatsApp changed its Privacy Policy and gave existing users in the European Region 30days to exercise their rights …

“If you are an existing user, you can choose not to have your WhatsApp account information shared with Facebook to improve your Facebook ads and products experiences. Existing users who accept our updated Terms and Privacy Policy will have an additional 30 days to make this choice by going to Settings > Account.”

… to not share information with Facebook. I have no idea whether I chose to exercise that right, and I cannot find any way of finding out whether I did or not. If I did, the changes proposed now could not supersede the opt-out, but I don’t know, and I must proceed with the presumption I didn’t opt-out. [The option in Settings > Account has unsurprisingly been removed.]

So it comes down to this. Your decision to continue using WhatsApp, or seeking an alternative instant messaging platform is a personal one. I’ve made my decision albeit one that is grey, rather than black and white. I have kept my accounts with Facebook and Instagram active – I haven’t deleted them. As long as the data is held in Ireland, I will continue to “lurk” but will not be active on these apps. So, I will accept the new WhatsApp Ts&Cs to keep my account, but I will cease to be “active” on that platform. When Facebook repatriates my data to California, I will end my connection with Facebook Inc and at that time I will no longer have a WhatsApp account.

So I must prepare for change if I want to keep using an instant messaging platform. Where to go then?

I’ve made my choice. I could go through a list and state the pros and cons of each, but that would just replicate what others have done. As a result of reading these reviews I’ve decided to move to Signal.

Why Signal?

Quite simply it’s open-source; the author of the end-to-end encryption used by WhatsApp was the founder of the organisation that preceded the formation of the Signal Foundation; and therefore these together mean that the risks of moving are far less than those of staying with WhatsApp. The Foundation cannot be bought out; it is funded privately by donation; it is supported by a community of coders and developers and now it has the founder of WhatsApp onboard as a funder.

Read about the origins and background to Signal.

Moving to Signal

No change is easy, but this one is only difficult in that you may leave people behind who are not willing to move with you. The differences in the user interface between the two platforms is minimal and very easy to pick-up. I haven’t detected any functionality that’s missing, or at least functionality I needed. There might be an issue with video-calls as the platform is probably not scaled up to receive a huge influx of video-calling refugees from WhatsApp – but there’s Facetime, Google Meet, Skype and of course Zoom for that anyway.

So How do you leave WhatsApp without losing all of your data or upsetting your friends (The Independent, 13th Jan, 2021) and How do you start using Signal (Make Use of, 11th Jan, 2021).

In conclusion, again from The Independent, 13th January, just read this article which parallels much of what I’ve already written above …

Leaving WhatsApp will be hard – but it is the right thing to do

… for me, it undoubtedly is, my journey away from WhatsApp (and Facebook Inc) has begun.

UPDATE (Jan 15th)

Further to this post yesterday it appears WhatsApp have realised they have not communicated the reasons for their proposed changes well enough citing “misinformation”, I would say poor communication. So read this …


… you all have more time to make your own personal decisions. I would still advise not AGREEing just yet, you may not be able to change your mind! I will reflect and report back later. Meanwhile Signal is struggling under the pressure of a huge influx of new users – teething problems one hopes.

The new WhatsApp Terms and Conditions of Use

Let’s start with this passage from the article in The Register referred to below where the founder of WhatsApp talks about his reasons for creating WhatsApp …

“When WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014, it promised netizens that its instant-messaging app would not collect names, addresses, internet searches, or location data. CEO Jan Koum wrote in a blog postAbove all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication. For me, this is very personal. I was born in Ukraine, and grew up in the USSR during the 1980s

One of my strongest memories from that time is a phrase I’d frequently hear when my mother was talking on the phone: ‘This is not a phone conversation; I’ll tell you in person.’ The fact that we couldn’t speak freely without the fear that our communications would be monitored by KGB is in part why we moved to the United States when I was a teenager.

Two years later, however, that vow was eroded by, well, capitalism, and WhatsApp revealed it would be “coordinating more with Facebook,” and gave people the opportunity to opt out of any data sharing. This time around, there is no opt-out for the sharing of data with Facebook and its tentacles. Koum left in 2018.”

So this all started 4 years ago, when WhatsApp announced a change to their Terms and Conditions (Ts&Cs) – the first change in many years, and the first since being taken over by Facebook. It was possible to opt out of this change which was announced as only to “improve the experience of Facebook users” (that’s kind of them – do I believe that?).

I don’t know whether I chose to opt out, I suspect I did, but I have no way of knowing!!! Whatever … I only had 30-days to opt out then, and I can’t go back and opt-out now.

I was alerted to the current impending change on February 8th, which is a take it, or leave it choice by this article in a well respected techie (UK-based) blog – The Register. It’s subsequently been updated, and may be updated again I suspect as more information is squeezed out of Facebook.

Before Christmas in a meeting of the Cardiff U3A Computer Group, I referred to the repatriation of UK-data to the US as a consequence of Brexit. So far Facebook and Google (and there could be more) have announced their attention to do just that, and others will undoubtedly follow. Free from Europe, our government has said we will follow GDPR (it had very little option), but the US tech companies see the wisdom of not having a European base for their (our) data and are hopeful of less stringent Federal privacy restrictions under a new Democratic Party controlled Senate committed to introducing legislation.

Once out of the European protection, we in Britain could in the course of time, and after the repatriation of Facebook data to California (read the article above), be deemed not to be part of the European area and so the protection offered by WhatsApp/Facebook suggested in this article in “The i“, would cease to apply. So the short-term acceptance of these Ts&Cs thinking they don’t apply to us, might be scuppered should the data-hosting move to the US.

No certainties, just doubts and that’s where mistrust comes in.

As of today, I’m at a loss to know what to advise or do. I’m hopeful of further clarification in the days to come, but I’ll leave acceptance of the new Ts&Cs to the last few days before February 8th.

Your comments and thoughts most welcome.