WhatsApp delays controversial update after user backlash

WhatsApp has caused quite a bit of commotion with a planned update to its privacy policy, which spooked users as it added more detail on how Facebook and third party businesses can use and interact with user data on the platform.

Now, amid user backlash, the company has announced the new policy will go into effect on May 15 instead of Feb. 8, as originally planned.

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the company said in a blog post dated Jan. 15.

“We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the post says.

In the post, WhatsApp once again reiterates what it said last week — neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see your private messages, and the company is still committed to using end-to-end encryption for conversations. The updates are all about communication between users and businesses, and they do not affect people’s private conversations. (WhatsApp does share some metadata with Facebook, but that’s largely been in place since 2016).

Still, the company acknowledges that it’s “going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp.”

I can provide a very palpable example of WhatsApp means by this. The company recently provided some information on a page precisely to address confusion around its new Privacy Policy. But the latest version of that page, as I see it at writing time, is missing a paragraph that was there just five ago.

The paragraph in question, as seen on an earlier version of the page (via Wayback Machine), is as follows:

“New commerce features: People increasingly want to be able to shop from businesses online. With Facebook branded commerce features like Shops, some businesses will display their goods right within WhatsApp so people can see what’s available to buy. If you choose to interact with Shops, your shopping activity can be used to personalize your Shops experience and the ads you see on Facebook and Instagram. Features like this are optional and when you use them we will tell you in the app how your data is being shared with Facebook.”

I don’t know why WhatsApp removed this paragraph from the page (I’ve asked, and will update this article when I hear back), but it certainly only adds to confusion around this matter.

UPDATE: Jan. 18, 2021, 3:28 p.m. CET WhatsApp says it has expanded on that paragraph in more detail in another section of the FAQ, available here.

You can read WhatsApp’s updated Terms of Service.

It’s hard to say how many users WhatsApp has lost due to the new policy, but its competitors, such as Telegram and Signal, are seeing a massive influx of new users in the last week or so.

Notably, the company also launched front-page ads in India to mitigate the user outflows.

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