Technology

Facebook tells WhatsApp users its data collection isn’t so bad

The pop-up notifications that Facebook used to inform users of the policy changes sounded like what many are calling “an ultimatum.”

“By tapping Agree, you accept the new terms and privacy policy, which take effect on February 8, 2021,” the notice reads. “After this date, you’ll need to accept these updates to continue using WhatsApp. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account and would like more information.”

In 2016, about two years after Facebook acquired WhatsApp, it had a similar policy change, but it allowed users to opt-out of the data collection and sharing with third parties. There is no such provision this time, so if users do not agree, they lose access to their account and any archived messages they may have saved.

The move has already pushed many users away from the platform. A day after the notices began appearing, rival messaging app Signal reported it was having difficulties keeping up with the influx of new users.

There are many layers to the onion of anger that users and privacy groups are expressing. However, Facebook’s damage control team latched on to one aspect of it and effectively dismissed the uproar as if it were solely based on rumors.

“We want to address some rumors and be 100% clear we continue to protect your private messages with end-to-end encryption,” it said via the official WhatsApp Twitter account.

The post included an infographic (above) listing several items that the app does not collect, notably mentioning that Facebook/WhatsApp cannot read your private messages. For a messaging app that touts end-to-end encryption, this is a bit like a child getting caught feeding his dinner to the dog and then saying, “Well, I didn’t get into the cookie jar.” It is rather irrelevant and has little to do with why users are upset.

It is also interesting that Facebook took the time to create a concise and straightforward illustration of the data it does not collect, yet it has not done the same for the actual policy changes. Instead, users must navigate a 5,264-word Terms of Service page and a 3,879-word Privacy Policy.

Ultimately, knowing what they agree to is the users’ responsibility. Nevertheless, Facebook’s attempt to quell the backlash by waving a flag at what it does not do while hiding what it does do behind legalese is not helping its situation.