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WhatsApp Has Delayed Its Data Policy Update

After facing significant backlash, WhatsApp has decided to delay the deadline for its users to accept the new privacy policies. The initial announcement by WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, said that users would have to opt-in to the new policy which significantly modifies the previous privacy agreement by February 8th, 2021 to continue using the app. The extremely vocal pushback has prompted Facebook to allow users to review the new policy at “their own pace” before having to accept the new terms by May 15th.

Part of WhatsApp’s appeal is the encrypted messages. In a world where privacy on the internet is dwindling, this is something that WhatsApp users value. The new privacy policy would allow businesses to be able to store the content of WhatsApp chats with customers through Facebook. This development triggered significant worry among users that WhatsApp, and in turn Facebook, would be able to see the contents of all of their chats.

That concern prompted Elon Musk to tweet the simple, “Use Signal.” That tweet compounded the anxiety around WhatsApp’s new policy and lead to such a dramatic influx of new users for Signal that its servers temporarily crashed.

In addition to pushing back the date that WhatsApp users would have to agree to the new terms, WhatsApp has taken to their website to clear up what they consider misinformation surrounding the update.

On the FAQ section of its site, WhatsApp dedicated an entire section and graphic to mitigating privacy concerns. One of the first things a visitor to the page will see is the following proclamation.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. The changes are related to optional business features on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

Immediately below that explanation is the following graphic.

Screenshot of WhatsApp.com

The concern surrounding the new privacy policy is not completely unwarranted. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to face a Senate trial focused on how the company used personal data. In spite of the fact that the trial did little to set the record straight or bring about any major changes, the memory is fresh in people’s minds and, as such, people are often wary when it comes to Facebook; Particularly since the release of The Social Dilemma.

It does not help Facebook’s attempts to rehab its image that the company is facing two separate antitrust lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of attorney generals from 46 states. Nor does it help that those suits are directly related to Facebook’s ownership and operation of WhatsApp.

All of those factors significantly enhance the murky territory that goes with forced consent, requiring users to opt-in to policies in order to utilize a service, which is an issue that we have explored before during the online COVID-19 screening rollout.

While the privacy policies seem to only focus on enhancing a business’s ability to keep track of customer interaction, the backlash and delay in the rollout of the new privacy policy show one thing for certain: people do not trust Facebook.

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