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1 Billion Users Just Lost Some Privacy

The app in action

Need to Know

When the platform WhatsApp launched in 2010, the app’s promise of encrypted messaging quickly caught on amid a wave of WikiLeaks-era privacy concerns and Arab Spring related social movements.

Facebook bought the platform for $19 billion in 2014; at the time CEO Jan Koum promised, “Here’s what will change for you, our users: nothing.”

In February the service hit the one billion users mark, touting that WhatsApp is “ensuring that anyone could stay in touch… without costs or gimmicks standing in the way.”

And in the wake of the FBI’s battle with Apple to unlock iPhone data, WhatsApp rolled out full end-to-end encryption in April of this year.

That was then. On Thursday, WhatsApp announced updates to its privacy policy and terms of use that allow the service to share phone numbers and other user data with Facebook.

The move is designed to allow brands and businesses to communicate urgent messages (think flight delays), shipping updates, receipts, and sale notifications via WhatsApp.

The move also prompted outrage from online privacy advocates. “In terms of political surveillance and concerns about intrusive governmental practices, that’s a legitimate and real concern”, Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said. “Companies like Google and Facebook are placing the lives of advocates who work in countries with totalitarian governments at risk.”

It’s likely none of this would have sparked quite so much user outrage were it not for WhatsApp’s full-throated defense of user data privacy in the past. As Wired points out, in 2009, CEO Jan Koum wrote, “We have not, we do not and we will not ever sell your personal information to anyone. Period. End of story.”

And for the next several weeks, WhatsApp is allowing users to opt out of data sharing with Facebook – Techcrunch has a handy guide for users.

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