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Understanding Facebook and Its New WhatsApp Privacy Policy

I am a tech enthusiast myself, and I follow online privacy-related news closely.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have come across a lot of articles and videos talking about what Facebook has done with WhatsApp over the past few weeks.

And it is important to understand what does it mean for the Company and you as a consumer. And what is going to happen to all the data that you generate on WhatsApp?

What Is WhatsApp?

Before that, we need to understand, what is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging application started by Brian Acton, Jan Koum. It was initially launched, in the February of 2009. It was previously available for a variety of devices, apart from Apple and Android.

History of WhatsApp.

WhatsApp starting screen

WhatsApp starting screen

During the initial release, Whatsapp gained a lot of traction. People soon realized that it would cost less than sending SMS. WhatsApp became popular in the Asian and South American markets where people could not afford iPhone and its so-called premium services. Due to its availability on a lot of platforms, soon, it became the best alternative for iPhone's iMessage. And soon enough, WhatsApp was able to see a staggering success in different App Stores. It became the most downloaded app soon enough, but just beneath Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook’s Involvement.

After five years of watching WhatsApp and noticing its growth, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided that he wants to his hands on this messaging service. And in the February of 2014, Facebook decided to acquire the messaging service for a whopping $20 billion.

The only reason for Facebook to acquire this messaging service was because they were themselves lagging in terms of providing the consumers with proper messaging service, not only that, at the same time, they were also aiming for the huge user base that WhatsApp had acquired.

The only thing that WhatsApp was getting out of this deal was the cash and a way to sustain themselves. Because at that time, they did not have a clear idea as to what their monetization strategy would be.

Creative Differences.

WhatsApp vs. Facebook

WhatsApp vs. Facebook

When WhatsApp started, they primarily wanted to be a subscription-based company and promised the consumers to give the 1st year of service free and then charge $1 from the next year.

But that did not seem to have panned out. For some reason, this never came into effect. For the next five years from its initial release, WhatsApp remained free for the public. Maybe their strategy was to gain more people to increase their user base before they could think of charging them. So that they could be profitable from the moment they started charging for the service. But that it never happened. They needed funds to keep their operations running. The moment they got acquired, the problems of the messaging service seemed to have been disappeared.

It caused another problem, Facebook was now looking for ways to monetize the app. At first, they thought of running the ads on the platform just the way they did with their platforms (Facebook and Instagram) but, what made WhatsApp unique, was their privacy-respecting policies and the promise that they would never show ads just for the sake of money. And this made their platform much cleaner and good-looking.

This caused a rift between Mark and Brian. One wanted to monetize the application that he acquired with such an enormous amount of money, the other was not happy with the decision that the privacy policy which kept the customer's data private and safe and the application which was unique, as its only selling point, was that it was clean and ad-free was at stake. Ultimately this resulted in Brian and Jan leaving the company.

What Is the Future of WhatsApp Going to Be Like

On a day-to-day basis, one can find articles talking about different features that are coming to WhatsApp in its next release. It has become almost a daily occurrence. Nevertheless, the future of Whatsapp looks a bit cluttered.

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There are so many features that are not required at all, yet Facebook tries to push them, not only to their original platforms but to Whatsapp as well.

For example, Features like disappearing statuses can be explained for being there on Snapchat, but it doesn't make any sense to have on WhatsApp. At this point, it feels like WhatsApp is just trying to be relevant to the masses.

At this point, most of the features that WhatsApp comes up with feels forced to the users of the app, and currently, they should stay away from releasing any significant updates. Because they have done a lot already and, till date whatever they have ventured out for has not proven to be fruitful at any cost. Putting the privacy policy at stake and asking for permission to show relevant ads can be the final nail in the coffin.

What Is WhatsApp Doing

Recently WhatsApp came up with a few policy changes, which clearly state that WhatsApp holds the right to share your data with Facebook.

This data might include information is like:

  • Your profile picture
  • The name on your profile
  • Your location
  • The device which you are using
  • Your battery status
  • The cell network that your device is connected to

This is a bit uncertain, but there are rumors that WhatsApp might be listening to your audio messages and might be reading your text messages as well.

Usually, WhatsApp messages are said to be end-to-end encrypted, so that means that WhatsApp will not be able to read your messages and that's what they claim to be. But some people also believe that the ones who created the encryption have the tools to decrypt it as well.

What Are the Consequences It Is Going to Have?

Consequences of your actions

Consequences of your actions

It is not wrong to say that the actions of the company have already resulted in a huge loss. The recent privacy fiasco has already given a boost to the rival apps, resulting in a chunk of WhatsApp users migrating to these alternatives.

One such alternative is Signal, an end-to-end encrypted service just like WhatsApp. Unlike WhatsApp, they have their issues sorted out as they are a non-profit company providing these services. Signal is started by the same guys who were once the founders of WhatsApp.

Is It Right to Move to Signal?

As said earlier signal is a non-profit organization providing this kind of service. So money is not an issue for them for survival. They can keep themselves running on a donation basis. So, the chances for them to show you ads or to use your private information for their survival are very less.

But it is not advisable to move all your chats, your group chats, and even your business account to signal. Keeping all the data in the same place is not recommended from a privacy standpoint. This tends to increase the reliance of an individual on the same company or on the same app for almost all their needs. Keeping all the eggs in the same basket is never recommended when it comes to issues like privacy.

Instead, it is advised to use WhatsApp and to use signal at the same time, WhatsApp can be used for business purposes whereas, signal can be used for personal chats and group texts.

It reduces the risk of someone infringing your privacy and eliminates the risk of someone or a specific company using your private and personal data for showing you targeted ads.

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