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WhatsApp broke a privacy promise to its users and that is how tech companies work

WhatsApp has revised its privacy policy where it reportedly intends to share more data with Facebook. WhatsApp users will have to accept the new privacy policy by February 8, 2021.

twitter-logoKetan Pratap | January 12, 2021 | Updated 12:43 IST
WhatsApp
WhatsApp's in-app notification about update to its privacy policy

Highlights

  • WhatsApp currently shares certain categories of user information with Facebook companies.
  • Similarly, Google Photos, starting June 2021, will no longer be free for users.
  • Google has clarified that any new photos and videos uploaded will be counted toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with every Google account.

Have you been alarmed by the recent update to WhatsApp's privacy policy but confused to understand what happened to a company that vouched for values and privacy? Well, you're not alone as a lot of people are currently confused and some even expressing their anger towards the new policy change by one of the most widely used messaging apps in the world. However, here's a disclaimer for you that's how tech companies work.

Last week, WhatsApp started sending an in-app notification to users globally, asking them to accept its revised privacy policy or delete their account from the service. The new privacy policy goes into effect on February 8, 2021. While iOS users had no choice but to accept the new policy, and then continue using the service. WhatsApp users on Android got an additional option that said "Not now" which meant these users could dodge the controversial policy change until the deadline. However, the revised policy will have to be accepted by anyone who wants to use the app going forward.

Explaining the WhatsApp and Facebook deal timeline since 2014

In 2014, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook, and the deal did raise a lot of eyebrows on which WhatsApp had to clarify. The company's co-founder and former CEO Jan Koum tried to address concerns about how the acquisition will impact WhatsApp back then. In a published blog (which now has been removed from the website), Koum said, "If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn't have done it. Instead, we are forming a partnership that would allow us to continue operating independently and autonomously. Our fundamental values and beliefs will not change. Our principles will not change. Everything that has made WhatsApp the leader in personal messaging will still be in place. Speculation to the contrary isn't just baseless and unfounded, it's irresponsible. It has the effect of scaring people into thinking we're suddenly collecting all kinds of new data. That's just not true, and it's important to us that you know that."

In 2016, the messaging app for the first time announced that it would start sharing some data with Facebook, including phone numbers and last seen activity. The next year, Facebook received a massive $122 million fine from European Union's antitrust regulators for providing misleading info that they couldn't link the accounts of users on both Facebook and WhatsApp.

In 2019, Facebook, in an attempt to align all its companies, enabled WhatsApp Status updates to be shared to Facebook Stories.

In 2021, WhatsApp has announced a revised privacy policy that forces users to accept it or delete their accounts from the service.

What information does WhatsApp share with the Facebook Companies? Here's what the company says, "WhatsApp currently shares certain categories of information with Facebook Companies. The information we share with the other Facebook Companies. includes your account registration information (such as your phone number), transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using our Services, mobile device information, your IP address, and may include other information identified in the Privacy Policy section entitled Information We Collect or obtained upon notice to you or based on your consent."

Google recently announced Photos would no longer be free

WhatsApp and Facebook may be the latest to break their status quo on privacy, data sharing, and more pointers. But, major tech companies like Google have done something on similar lines before.

One of the best examples is Google Photos. Launched back in 2015, Google promised that Google Photos would offer unlimited storage space for photos (compressed to 16 megapixels) and 1080p videos for free. This made Google Photos one of the most versatile photo storage option in the market for five years. However, in November, the company announced that starting June 1, 2021, any new photos and videos uploaded by a user will be counted toward the free 15 GB of storage that comes with every Google account or the additional storage purchased as a Google One member. This means that your Google account storage will soon be shared across Drive, Gmail and Photos.

The hook here is companies tend to offer a service for free, or at very nominal charges initially, that pulls new users. Once, the service is popular and almost becomes irreplaceable, then comes the change. In WhatsApp's case, Facebook always knew that a policy change could be devastating initially and thus, the transition gradually over the years.

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