WhatsApp’s data sharing with Facebook: opting out of the new terms

WhatsApp is offering its users an option to opt out of sharing their data for ad targeting purposes however it does not seem to be possible to prevent WhatsApp from sharing data for other purposes

Staff Reporter
28 August 2016, 11:40am
The merger between Facebook and WhatsApp was the largest in Facebook’s 10-year history
The merger between Facebook and WhatsApp was the largest in Facebook’s 10-year history
The instant messaging giant WhatsApp, which has over a billion users worldwide, has announced a change to its terms-of-service, which will see it share some of its user data with its parent company Facebook.

The move, announced in a post on the company’s blog, will see WhatsApp share information including user phone numbers and last seen data with Facebook in order to reduce spam and make targeted advertising more efficient. This, it said, will be done as part of the company’s plans to introduce ways for people to communicate with businesses.

Despite the fact that WhatsApp has reassured its users that all messages sent using the app are encrypted by default, and that only the members of the chat are able to view its contents, the development has caused a stir among privacy advocates.

The privacy group EPIC has said that it intends to file a complaint against the company which it is accusing of lying to users when, back in 2014 it had pledged to remain independent of Facebook and to never share or sell “personally identifiable information”

The notification asking users to agree to these changes is insufficiently clear and may also be misleading to some since it states that the user’s “chats and phone number will not be shared onto Facebook”.

While there is definitely a disclosure regarding the changes being made by WhatsApp it does not clarify exactly what information will be shared with Facebook.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has said that it will be looking into WhatsApps’s decision to share more data with its parent company, to make sure that the company’s actions stay within data protection laws.

The general consensus is that the company is within its right to make changes like these as long as users give their informed consent regarding what these changes mean.

This sentiment was echoed by ICT law specialist Dr Antonio Ghio. “For a data controller to share data about any subject they need to obtain the consent of user while ensuring that the user understands fully the changes being made.”

WhatsApp is offering its users an option to opt out of sharing their data for ad targeting purposes however it does not seem to be possible to prevent WhatsApp from sharing data for other purposes.

There are two main ways of opting out of the new terms, one of them fairly simply and the other ever so slightly more complicated.

The first way can only be done if you haven’t accepted the new terms, using the pop-up that will emerge when you open up WhatsApp. If you haven’t, wait until that happens but don’t click “agree” – instead navigate to the smaller “read more” option, and untick the box that says “Share my WhatsApp account information with Facebook”.

If you’ve already accepted those new terms, you can still opt out – as long as it’s within 30 days. You can do that by heading to the settings menu in the app, and pressing on the account tab – there you’ll find a “share my account info” button that you can undress and revoke your permission.