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Is WhatsApp Privacy a Big Fat Facebook Lie? What You Need to Know.

WhatsApp privacy policy

WhatsApp Privacy: Facebook’s New “Data Use” Policy

I have been getting a ton of questions on the privacy of your personal data that is sent through WhatsApp. Is Facebook, who owns WhatsApp, sharing everything you write, including all of your contacts, messages and behaviors? It’s not quite that simple, but neither is Facebook.

Facebook announced a new WhatsApp privacy policy recently which created A LOT of confusion and user backlash. The changes caused such an uproar that they ultimately have decided to delay release of the new WhatsApp privacy agreement from Feb. 8 to May 15 while they sort themselves out. So let me give you a head start!

Behind all of this, WhatsApp is trying to break into the world of messaging for businesses (to compete with Slack and other programs). That way, when you communicate with a business, Facebook will see what you’re saying and use that information for advertising purposes.

Your Data That Can Be Accessed By Facebook

Facebook contends that your private messages will remain encrypted end-to-end, including to them, but Facebook & WhatsApp will have access to everything they’ve had access to since 2014:

  • Phone numbers being used
  • How often the app is opened
  • The operating system and resolution of the device screen
  • An estimation of your location at time of usage based on your internet connection

Purportedly, Facebook won’t keep records on whom people are contacting in WhatsApp, and WhatsApp contacts aren’t shared with Facebook. Given Facebook’s miserable history with our personal privacy, I don’t actually believe that they will limit information sharing to the degree that they promise. I think that this is one of those cases where they will secretly violate our privacy until it is discovered and then ask forgiveness and lean on the fact that we have no legislation protecting us as consumers. But please be aware that if you utilize Facebook, you are already sharing a massive amount of information about yourself and your contacts. WhatsApp may just add another piece of data into your profile.Watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix if you’d like to learn more about how you are being used to power their profits.

Highly Private Messaging Alternatives to WhatsApp

So, while it is mostly a “cosmetic change” to the WhatsApp privacy policy, if you are uncomfortable using it, you may want to consider the following:

    • There are alternative messaging apps, including Signal and Telegram, both of which have seen huge new user sign-ups since the announcement. I personally use Apple Messages (daily communications) and Signal (highly confidential communications).
    • WhatsApp says it clearly labels conversations with businesses that use Facebook’s hosting services. Be on the lookout for those.
    • The feature that allows your shopping activity to be used to display related ads on Facebook and Instagram is optional and when you use it, WhatsApp “will tell you in the app how your data is being shared with Facebook.” Monitor it and opt out.
    • If you don’t want Facebook to target you with more ads based on your WhatsApp communication with businesses, just don’t use that feature.
    • Trust the WhatsApp messaging app as much as you trust Facebook, because ultimately, they are the same company.

John Sileo is a cybersecurity expert, privacy advocate, award-winning author and media personality as seen on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox & Friends. He keynotes conferences virtually and in person around the world. John is the CEO of The Sileo Group, a business think tank based in Colorado

Facebook Privacy: New Data Use Policy Banks on User Laziness

facebook privacy 2Is there such a thing as Facebook privacy? You’ve might have heard that Facebook is proposing a new Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (formerly known as a privacy policy). No one refers to it as a Privacy Policy anymore, because there is absolutely no sign of privacy left. And if you read the email from Facebook alerting you to the changes, or even the summary of changes that they provide, you are left with no clear idea of the magnitude of those alterations (you’d have to read the actual suggested changes).

Facebook is masking privacy erosion with a deceptive executive summary. The latest changes make me very uncomfortable in three ways:

  1. It appears that Facebook has left open the option to collect and utilize your mobile phone number when you access Facebook from your mobile device. That is valuable information to advertisers who want to text, call or serve up ads to you directly.
  2. Facebook is already using, and will continue to use facial recognition software to identify photos that you are in (even if they aren’t your photos), and recommend that they be tagged with your identity. Now they are considering adding your profile photo as a benchmark for the facial recognition software. In other words, the minute any photo is put up with you in it, it can be tagged and exposed to the rest of the world. You can change your Timeline & Tagging Settings to stop non-consensual tagging.
  3. By default and unless you make somewhat complicated changes, your photos can be used in advertisements. Any photos you load to Facebook can be served up to your network in connection with items you have “Liked”, which means that your picture (or worse yet, your child’s) can show up next to the raunchy movie you just “Liked”.

As quoted in the British newspaper, The Register, Facebook is practically flaunting your addiction to their social network, knowing you will likely do nothing about it:

“You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us. This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you… You understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.”

Facebook is so confident that you won’t make the necessary changes to your privacy settings (let alone actually deleting your Facebook account), that they can arrogantly announce these changes without fear of reprisal. They are literally banking on your apathy.

There is good news! You have two clear options:

  1. You have 7 days to comment on Facebook’s new policies before they take effect. If there is a strong enough backlash against these erosive changes, they will rethink their position (maybe – or they might just outlast you until you’ve stopped paying attention). But the backlash won’t happen without your input.
  2. You can outright delete your Facebook account, but don’t do it until you have downloaded a copy of your data, posts, pictures and such. Even then, they reserve the right to use the data you already posted for a certain period of time.

In the coming days, I will post a video on how to do both of these items.

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.