WhatsApp recently bungled their terms and conditions update as covered in my recent The Great WhatsApp Trek article. Following the uproar and exodus of users, WhatsApp has decided to postpone their update until 15 May 2021. Users have been sharing their WhatsApp data with Facebook since 2016 even if they weren’t aware. The latest update makes it compulsory for users to agree to this. Interestingly, users in the European Union (EU) can opt-out of data sharing with Facebook as this contravenes their General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). So unless you’re living in Europe you have to agree to the company’s terms to continue using the app.
Can WhatsApp read your messages?
WhatsApp says it is not able to read your messages as all messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. They don’t store messages after they’ve been delivered. When a message is undelivered for longer than 30 days it is automatically deleted. The backend of WhatsApp uses the Signal Protocol to encrypt messages. Since WhatsApp is not open-source software, more tech-savvy users are not able to verify this. WhatsApp is able to make changes to the protocol without scrutiny from developers. We’ll just have to take their word for it. What WhatsApp shares with Facebook is the metadata of the WhatsApp account. This is everything that describes the data itself, which can be understood as data about your data.
If a user deletes WhatsApp, does it automatically delete their data?
No. Users must use the in-app feature to delete their account. Even then, some of their information will remain with the company such as the group chats you’ve created or the information that other users have of you, such as their copies of messages that you had sent to them.
What information can WhatsApp access and share with Facebook?
The company can access a user’s account information including:
- phone number,
- profile name,
- profile photo,
- online status,
- status message,
- last seen status,
- read receipts
With regards to the user’s phone, it is a lot more comprehensive:
- IP address and device location
- app version,
- version of Android or iOS,
- mobile network / Internet Service Provider (ISP),
- language and time zone,
- identifiers unique to other Facebook apps (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram) associated with the same device or account).
How can you see what information WhatsApp has collected about you?
WhatsApp provides a report about the data it has collected about you. To access this data, simply go to Settings – Account – Request account info. It takes 3 days for the report to generate. Here is my report with some sensitive information redacted for security reasons:
|Your WhatsApp Information|
Note: All times are Pacific Time.
|Report Generation Time||2021/01/25-06:11:59|
|Report Request Time||2021/01/22-05:19:46|
|Previous Connection IP||22.214.171.124|
|Current Connection IP||—|
|Device OS Build Number||9|
|Web/Desktop Connected Since||—|
|Web/Desktop Availability State||INACTIVE|
|Web/Desktop Inactive Since||—|
|About||Find me on Telegram and Signal|
|About Set Time||2021/01/10-07:46:18|
|Profile Picture Upload Time||2020/01/10-07:46:18|
|Contacts||+27XXXXXXXXX, +27XXXXXXXXX… + 618 other numbers|
+ 10 other groups…
|Terms of Service|
|2016 Terms of Service Accepted||Yes|
|2016 Terms of Service Accept Time||2016/08/26-04:18:32|
|Data Sharing Opt-Out||No|
|Data Sharing Opt-Out Time||—|
|2018 Terms of Service Accepted||No|
|2018 Terms of Service Accept Time||—|
|Last Seen Privacy||Nobody|
|Profile Photo Privacy||Everyone|
|About Privacy||My Contacts|
|Blocked Numbers||+27XXXXXXXXX, +27XXXXXXXXX, +27XXXXXXXXX, +27XXXXXXXXX|
WhatsApp still has the most users. This means that businesses may need to keep using the app for their business messaging. The cost of switching their service to another messenger like Telegram or Signal might be too costly or time-consuming.
Co-founder of WhatsApp, Brian Acton said he sees people using a more private app like Signal for conversations with their family and close friends, and using WhatsApp for other chats.
“I have no desire to do all the things that WhatsApp does. My desire is to give people a choice,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re locked into something where you have no choice. It’s not strictly a winner-take-all scenario.”