WhatsApp privacy policy update: Don’t fall for these false claims

WhatsApp is facing an uproar after its new  privacy policy update, which suggests further data sharing with its parent company Facebook. Further, users have to accept the terms and service of this new policy and have a deadline till February 8, 2021, after which they will have to delete their WhatsApp account, if they are not okay with the conditions. This change in privacy policy has also sparked an exodus of sorts to apps like Signal and Telegram.

However, the new updates do talk of further data sharing with Facebook, have also given rise to lot of false information. Ironically, a lot of the misinformation around WhatsApp and its new privacy policy has been circulating on WhatsApp itself in the form of forwarded messages.

While the new privacy policy for WhatsApp does cause some concern, especially with regard to Facebook and data sharing, one should not believe everything being circulated. Of course, one is free to still give WhatsApp for another app if not comfortable with the policy, but some of the fake information around it needs to be debunked. Here’s a look at some of the misinformation around WhatsApp that you should not believe.

Misinformation 1: Does WhatsApp now share my messages with Facebook?

Answer: False, even though you might have read that the new privacy policy makes your messages more vulnerable.

Explanation: The new policy does not change how WhatsApp deals with personal chats, which will continue to remain end-to-end encrypted, at least for now. This means that no third-party can read these chats. “We do not retain your messages in the ordinary course of providing our Services to you. Instead, your messages are stored on your device and not typically stored on our servers. Once your messages are delivered, they are deleted from our servers,” mentions the WhatsApp policy.

WhatsApp head Will Cathcart also wrote a thread on Twitter trying to clear the air around this. ““With end-to-end encryption, we cannot see your private chats or calls and neither can Facebook. We’re committed to this technology and committed to defending it globally”. Remember WhatsApp is using the same end-to-end encryption protocol as Signal, the app that many are now turning towards.

Read more: Facebook can’t access encrypted private chats: WhatsApp head on new privacy policy

Myth 2: Does WhatsApp share my location with Facebook?

Answer: Only approximate location information

Explanation: The locations of WhatsApp users are again, protected between the sender and the receiver. So, if you share your live location with a friend, that information is not transmitted to Facebook. However, WhatsApp does gather approximate location data which is given away by your phone number and IP address. Note that this is something the app can share with Facebook.

The content you share with your friends, family and colleagues over WhatsApp in the form of pictures, videos and audio files are a part of your chat history and remain end-to-end encrypted.

Myth 3: Does WhatsApp now own the content, media files that I’ve shared on the app?

Answer: False

Explanation: The content you share with your friends, family and colleagues over WhatsApp in the form of pictures, videos and audio files are a part of your chat history and remain end-to-end encrypted, just like your text messages.

While sending the same, WhatsApp only stores the media temporarily. Once the image/video/audio file has reached the receiver, it should remain only on the two devices and not on WhatsApp’s servers ”When a user forwards media within a message, we store that media temporarily in encrypted form on our servers to aid in more efficient delivery of additional forwards,” states the new policy.

Myth 4: Will WhatsApp show ads?

Answer: False, for now.

Explanation: WhatsApp will continue to be an ad-free messaging service. However, there is the possibility of ads coming to the platform sometime in the future. “We still do not allow third-party banner ads on our Services. We have no intention to introduce them, but if we ever do, we will update this Privacy Policy,” states the new policy. It was reported in the past that WhatsApp would ad advertisements in the Stories/Status feature, but that plan has been shelved for now. It looks like WhatsApp is focusing on connecting users with businesses in order to explore monetisation plans.

Read more: WhatsApp privacy update: Signal to Telegram, a detailed look at the best alternatives

Myth 5: Will WhatsApp record and track my audio/video calls?

Answer: False

Explanation: WhatsApp doesn’t record, or listen to audio and video calls made via the platform. The data of these voice and video calls remain end-to-end encrypted, just like text messages and media. This means that the calls stay between the parties involved in the call and nobody else, including WhatsApp. Check out the tweet below by Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp, Facebook Inc.

Myth 6: Is WhatsApp storing my messages?

Answer: False. Unless you do choose to do a backup with third-parties like Google Drive or Apple iCloud. WhatsApp does not store messages.

Explanation: As we mentioned above, WhatsApp will not store your text messages and other media files, even on its own servers. They are only stored offline on your own device. That is why when you install WhatsApp on a new phone, your chat history is not magically synced like Instagram or Facebook Messenger.

However, if you do choose to backup your WhatsApp chats on Drive or iCloud, then they are in the hands of a third-party company like Google or Apple. Still even then it is encrypted data. If you really doubt the safety of your messages, then perhaps the best way to ensure it would be be to not back up the data at all.

Also read: Thinking of switching to Signal? Here’s a lowdown on the WhatsApp alternative

Should you still use WhatsApp?

With all the above myths cleared, WhatsApp’s big problem right now is its parent company Facebook, which is not exactly known for best privacy practices. WhatsApp users concerned about their privacy may still be driven away by the fact that the app has now mandated the acceptance of the new privacy terms. It is only in the European Union that WhatsApp is legally bound to not share its data with Facebook. This leaves all current WhatsApp users two choices.

The first is to either stick to the app and hope for India to implement new data protection laws so that data collected by WhatsApp or pretty much any other app is not misused or shared without permission. The second is to switch to another app, which is not owned by big tech companies, who are all facing scrutiny over their data collection practices.

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