WhatsApp’s new privacy policy explained (2021)

Privacy news
2 mins

Updated on May 31, 2021: If you haven’t agreed to its new privacy policy, WhatsApp now says it won’t restrict your app’s functions, although the app will prompt you from time to time to agree to the new privacy policy. If you’ve already accepted the new privacy update, you cannot rescind it.

When WhatsApp gave users an ultimatum to either accept an updated privacy policy or stop using their app earlier this year, it received so much backlash that Facebook pushed the initial deadline by three months to try to stem the exodus from the app.

The update to WhatsApp’s privacy policy, which will allow Facebook to see users’ messages with businesses, is finally coming into effect this week on May 15. And while it won’t be completely unusable to users who don’t accept the policy, WhatsApp will make the app more inconvenient for them.

The update does not affect your personal messages

The initial announcement of the policy update gave the impression to many that WhatsApp (and therefore Facebook) would be able to see your personal messages. This triggered a huge surge in downloads of Signal and Telegram on both Android and iOS devices, and even “technoking” Elon Musk got his two cents in, tweeting “Use Signal” to his followers soon after WhatsApp’s announcement.

Since then, WhatsApp has clarified its privacy policy, saying the update “is not changing the privacy of your personal messages,” keeping them end-to-end encrypted. It will however start collecting information from your messages to businesses, which will be stored on Facebook’s servers and possibly used for advertising. This isn’t necessarily news, since WhatsApp has already been sharing user data like phone numbers with Facebook since 2016.

Read more:  Facebook’s biggest data breaches

What happens if you don’t accept the update?

For those who don’t hit “accept,” WhatsApp will start sending persistent reminders to agree to the new privacy policy. WhatsApp also previously said it would limit the functions of the app, including making calls and sending messages—and ultimately deleting the user’s account after 120 days—but the company more recently changed course and said it will not be restricting functionality.

Should you still use WhatsApp?

Unlike Messenger and Instagram, WhatsApp is still safe to use for personal messages, which are end-to-end encrypted. If you don’t want your messages with business being collected by Facebook, you will probably need to find an alternative way to communicate with them, like by email.

Read next: The best messaging apps for privacy and security in 2021

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Ceinwen focused on digital privacy, censorship, and surveillance, and has interviewed leading figures in tech.