In a short message that began to appear on WhatsApp screens in early January, its users were informed that the messenger's data from February 8, 2021, would be transferred to the owner of the program - Facebook. The announcement was accompanied by the information that the accounts of people who do not accept the new privacy rules will be suspended. It caused a wave of opposition among users of one of the world's most popular messengers. Many of them decided to look for alternatives to WhatsApp.
Under pressure from the media and the public, WhatsApp was forced to better explain its new terms and conditions and expand its information material on this subject. As we read in the entries published this week on the WhatsApp profile on Twitter, after the changes, the communicator will not - contrary to the concerns of Internet users - transfer to Facebook the content of users' private correspondence or their voice call recordings.
According to WhatsApp's declaration, the application does not store information about which people from their contact list users contact via the messenger, does not share information with Facebook about data stored in the phone book, nor does it provide the mother company with location data sent as part of private correspondence. Messages remain encrypted, which prevents access by people outside of the group of senders and recipients of the communication.
However, the outflow of WhatsApp users to other services offering digital communication has become a fact - mainly thanks to the head of Tesla, Elon Musk. Last week, on his Twitter profile, the billionaire encouraged 42 million followers to choose a competitive platform - the Signal messenger. It quickly became the most popular application both in the Google Store with software for Android smartphones and in the Apple Store for iOS.
Telegram soon became the second most popular alternative communication platform, with over 25 million new users registered in just three days. Thus, on January 12, the number of active users of the communicator for the first time in history exceeded 500 million.
Former advisor to the European Data Protection Supervisor in Brussels and the International Red Cross in Geneva, Dr. Łukasz Olejnik in an interview with PAP pointed out that WhatsApp has been transferring data on the use of the application to Facebook for a long time (2016 - PAP).
"It was metadata or information such as the user's phone number, or how long and often the user has been using the application, as well as typically infrastructure information, such as the IP address, type of operating system or battery level in the phone" - he said. As Olejnik emphasized, "it is not about the content of the transmitted communication, ie photos. This is communication data, encrypted. Metadata does not necessarily have to be like that".
The expert noted that the recent update of information for WhatsApp users led to significant losses for this platform. "It is clear that people with competence and knowledge about privacy, data protection, and understanding the sensitivity of this topic were not involved. Someone did not predict the negative consequences of this type of action. For me it is very strange" - he assessed.
As Olejnik pointed out, "users who are interested in cybersecurity and privacy should adapt the selected communication methods to their individual and group needs. This means that we first establish a threat model and then choose the appropriate solution. For various people, e.g. journalists or politicians, it may mean that ill-considered decisions may lead to previously unforeseen and very dangerous consequences "- the interlocutor warned PAP.
According to representatives of the Facebook-owned company, the new privacy rules are only related to the introduction of new WhatsApp features for business, allowing customers to contact companies via this messenger and expanding its e-commerce functionality.
Author: Małgorzata Fraser (PAP)