WhatsApp to Begin Sharing User Data With Facebook

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In a blog post on Thursday, WhatsApp announced that they would begin sharing some user data with Facebook. For now, that data only consists of anonymous analytic data and users' phone numbers. The phone numbers would not be shared with any third parties, and would only be there to enable the largely Facebook-based business communications services that WhatsApp has been looking into lately. Allowing users to communicate quickly with businesses and vice versa seems like a logical evolution of the service, but the necessary change to the privacy policy may be viewed by some as a compromise on WhatsApp's core values from the start, namely a staunch stance on user privacy.

From the start, WhatsApp was all about privacy. This was reflected in their strict privacy policy, and the fact that they were among the first few major players in the market to launch full end-to-end encryption. Back in 2014, when Facebook bought out WhatsApp, founder Jan Koum promised that the deal would not affect user privacy, and he maintains that this move is still within the bounds of that promise. Right now, the only user-identifiable information being shared with Facebook is phone numbers, and those numbers are being shared with Facebook and Facebook alone, and only for use in the business contact program. Koum maintains that users will not be seeing any spam or attempts to hack their phones using their phone number, or any other thing of that sort. In fact, he contends that Facebook's collaboration can help to reduce text spam that WhatsApp users sometimes see.

While the feature can be opted out of, the requirement to give a phone number in order to start a WhatsApp account is still there, and the privacy policy's update to allow sharing with Facebook, while not exactly open-ended, could be a sign of things to come. In a move that may seriously rattle some cages, when a match between a Facebook account and a WhatsApp phone number is found, Facebook can connect to that number and use it to help serve the user more relevant ads on Facebook. Besides those changes, things are still the same; messages are still encrypted and unreadable to anybody except the people in the conversation, data is still not sold to advertisers, and the service is still kept as secure and private as possible.

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