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Security & privacy

Has WhatsApp been sharing your data with Facebook for years?

Facebook is one of the worst tech companies when it comes to safeguarding its users’ privacy. It’s been known to share your personal information with advertisers to provide targeted ads and third-party companies like Cambridge Analytica.

That scandal had privacy advocates up in arms a few years ago. And while Facebook claims it’s made changes for the better, the scandals just keep on coming. That’s why it’s important to take security into your own hands. Tap or click here for 10 Facebook privacy and security settings to change ASAP.

Now, WhatsApp has updated its privacy policy and it’s important that you know the changes made. You might be shocked to find out how much of your information it’s been sharing with Facebook.

WhatsApp terms

Millions of WhatsApp users received a notification last week that the app has updated its privacy policy. If you didn’t read the new terms or skim over the privacy policy changes, you missed some important information.

WhatsApp’s parent company, Facebook, is bringing the messaging service closer into the social network’s fold. Click on one of the links, and it outlines how WhatsApp and Facebook will be sharing your personal information.

While you can close the notification without agreeing, users have until Feb. 8, 2021, to accept the new changes. If you fail to do so, the messaging service will kick you off until you do.

RELATED: Facebook slapped with massive antitrust lawsuits to break up social media chokehold

WhatsApp’s omission that you can choose what data to share with Facebook also raised some eyebrows. Through the new policies, almost all your data is shared between Facebook and WhatsApp.

Your profile picture, status, telephone number, location and device you use will be shared between WhatsApp and Facebook. You also agree to provide them with your messages, forwarded media, transaction and payment data and contacts.

For many, this raised a serious red flag. Enough so that thousands of users are now looking to use alternative messaging services.

This has been the norm since 2016

At face value, the new terms and policy changes could sound like a massive invasion of privacy. But we have some bad news for you. There is an excellent chance that you have already been sharing all that information with Facebook since 2016.

The last major update to the WhatsApp privacy policy happened in 2016. At the time, the service allowed users to opt-out of sharing certain details with Facebook. But you had to do it within a 30-day window. If you did, the service would still honor the five-year-old agreement.

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If you didn’t opt out, you have been sharing the information from this privacy policy with Facebook all this time. The same goes for anyone who signed up after the window period closed. WhatsApp went so far as to clarify that the February update doesn’t impact or change its existing practices.

It isn’t unusual for two services under the same parent company to share user information. With this update, WhatsApp has just put in writing what it has been sharing with Facebook since 2016.

Knowingly sharing your messages and contacts sounds scary, but the service claims to be serious about privacy and security. Over the weekend WhatsApp’s Will Cathcart tweeted that at no point can WhatsApp read your end-to-end encrypted messages.

“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,” he posted in a lengthy thread.

Addressing the issue of sharing your information between businesses who use WhatsApp, Cathcart explained that it is very common. He details that 175 million people message a business account each day on the service in other countries.

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Should you leave WhatsApp?

At this point, there isn’t a lot that you can do if you still want or need to use WhatsApp. Many people (rightfully) value their privacy, but services like WhatsApp need certain information to provide a full-featured product.

Our guess regarding the policy changes is that Facebook has been developing a host of interactions between WhatsApp and Facebook. You will soon most likely be able to message a Facebook contact through WhatsApp or easily add Facebook contacts to your WhatsApp account.

As for alternatives to WhatsApp, Signal has seen a massive boost in popularity recently. For end-to-end encryption, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recommends using the Signal messaging app.

Open Whisper Systems, the same company that provided WhatsApp’s encryption protocol, is also the creator of Signal Private Messenger. If you’re really serious about your messaging privacy, this service may be worth a try.

Whether those who currently decry WhatsApp’s policy changes will actually leave the service is yet to be seen.

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