By Sebastian Herrera
WhatsApp is delaying a controversial update to its privacy
policy following backlash from some users over how it would share
data with Facebook Inc., which owns the popular messaging
The company said its roughly two billion users would have until
May 15 to review and accept the new policy, which is when the data
changes are set to go into effect. If users don't consent by then,
the app will eventually stop working for them, a spokesman said.
The previous deadline for accepting the changes was Feb. 8, but
WhatsApp said it would "go to people gradually to review the policy
at their own pace."
"We've heard from so many people how much confusion there is
around our recent update," a WhatsApp spokesman said. "There's been
a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help
everyone understand our principles and the facts."
WhatsApp said the new policy isn't geared to expanding its
ability to share data with Facebook but rather to allowing
businesses that interact with customers on WhatsApp to store those
conversations on Facebook servers. The move was a key step in
Facebook's plan to generate revenue with the app after many years
of struggling to do so. Businesses will also be able to store user
shopping activity on the servers.
The apparent user resistance and confusion about the new policy
point to the difficulty the service faces in advancing on a
profit-generating path. Even as WhatsApp remains a market leader in
messaging, the competitive landscape for private, encrypted
messaging platforms is intensifying. Privacy concerns are growing
as a key consideration for users.
"A lot of folks didn't make the connection that WhatsApp was
owned by Facebook, so being more forthcoming in that relationship
was really a strike against WhatsApp," said Ashkan Soltani, a
former technologist for the Federal Trade Commission. "It has
become important to Facebook that the current model of social media
is risky with content moderation and privacy law. So they are
pushing to find additional ways to monetize."
Certain users expressed uncertainty last week on social media
about the new policy and questioned whether the changes would allow
Facebook to access messages or other information they had believed
was private. Memes depicting WhatsApp as an open network spread
quickly through social media. A tweet by Tesla Inc.'s Elon Musk
urging his followers to use messaging app Signal generated more
than 59,000 retweets.
The company has faced substantial backlash in Turkey, with the
government telling its citizens to drop WhatsApp and use Turkish
apps such as BiP. WhatsApp said it is sending users in Turkey
virtual cards outlining the app's privacy.
The company said it plans to remind all its users that WhatsApp
messages are protected with end-to-end encryption and that neither
WhatsApp nor Facebook can see the private messages, keeps logs of
whom users are calling or messaging, see a shared location or share
user contacts with Facebook.
Some data between the two companies has already been shared for
some time. Facebook is able to see which phone numbers are being
used in WhatsApp, how often the app is opened by users and their
While WhatsApp this week sought to clarify the policy and offer
assurances about privacy, users have begun to look elsewhere.
Jeremiah Gassensmith, an associate professor of chemistry and
biochemistry at the University of Texas at Dallas and longtime
WhatsApp user, said he decided to leave the messaging service after
seeing the notices about the privacy settings overhaul. He is now
using Signal instead.
Facebook's compilation of user data had been a concern and his
worries escalated in recent years as the company sought more
integration with its other apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
"It seems like Facebook is gradually bringing down the walls
between you and your data," Dr. Gassensmith said. "I can't buy it
WhatsApp downloads globally decreased by about 17% in the week
after its new policy announcement compared with the week before
across Apple and Google's app stores, according to app analytics
firm Sensor Tower Inc. Meanwhile, downloads of Signal during the
same period increased by about 6000% and downloads of Telegram,
another service, more than doubled, according to Sensor Tower.
Write to Sebastian Herrera at Sebastian.Herrera@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 15, 2021 15:56 ET (20:56 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.