Anyone who subscribes to any app or online service will receive emails or notifications from time to time saying that terms and conditions have been updated. How many of us bother to read these new terms, or even know what the old terms were that are being changed?
Rightly or wrongly, most people are happy to check the box or simply carry on using the service. They trust that no commercial organization would be misguided enough to take risks with customer data or privacy.
The proposed changes to WhatsApp terms of service attracted more attention than usual. Perhaps it was because users had to explicitly agree in order to continue using the app. Or maybe it was because it involved WhatsApp and Facebook.
The new terms won’t now come into effect until May. This should allow time for people to put the proposed changes into perspective.
Why have these changes been made?
According to WhatsApp, the move is part of the company introducing new payment capabilities to the app so that people can make purchases from businesses using it. The intent of the update is communicating to users that messages with businesses on WhatsApp may be stored on Facebook servers as Facebook will start unifying its backend infrastructure with the rest of its messaging suit: Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
Privacy and Security
The changes only affect business communications. The privacy arrangements covering personal communications with friends, family and colleagues are unchanged. It’s worth reminding ourselves what these are.
All communications on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted by default. Neither WhatsApp or Facebook can see or hear the content of your communications. WhatsApp doesn’t keep any logs of who its users communicate with and cannot see any location data that users share with each other.
Groups are private. No membership data is shared with Facebook and all chats are fully encrypted. Users can also download their data to see what information is held and set messages to disappear as soon as they are sent.
The changes apply where a business uses the WhatsApp messaging service to communicate with customers. Even here the changes are only relevant for businesses that host WhatsApp communications using Facebook secure hosting.
In these cases data may be collected and used by the Facebook family of brands for services such as targeted advertising. Data available to Facebook will be limited to basic information such as phone numbers and approximate location. It certainly won’t include the content of private conversations or contacts.
The intention is also to eventually offer additional services such as Facebook Pay through the app, which would be a convenient option for some users. It’s worth remembering that most businesses already hold customer data including personal information, purchase and even some search history.
The WhatsApp Business Policy makes it clear that the purpose of sending business messages over this channel is to improve customer communications. It is not there to spam customers with unwanted adverts and sales messages.
If a business hosts its WhatsApp messaging with Facebook, limited data may be shared under the new terms. In these cases, customers will see a notification so they can opt out of the conversation immediately if they don’t want their information to be shared.
unifonic is committed to maintaining the highest standards of privacy and data security. Our platform provides tools that simplify secure multi-channel customer communications and make it easy for customers to set and manage their communication channel preferences.