WhatsApp clarifies it’s not giving all your data to Facebook after surge in Signal and Telegram users
But a wave of misinformation on social media, not helped by Facebook’s abysmal track record on privacy and its reputation for obfuscating changes to its various terms of service agreements, has resulted in a full-blown WhatsApp backlash that has users fleeing to competitors like Signal and Telegram.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has even jumped into the fray, tweeting last week “Use Signal” to his more than 42 million followers. As the controversy has grown, Signal has become one of the most downloaded apps on Android and iOS and its verification system for signing up new users has repeatedly buckled under the pressure. Telegram, which is currently No. 2 behind Signal on the App Store, saw more than 25 million new users sign up in just the last 72 hours.
“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data,” the company writes on the new FAQ page.
It also stresses in the FAQ that neither Facebook nor WhatsApp read users’ message logs or listen to their calls, and that WhatsApp doesn’t store user location data or share contact information with Facebook. (It’s also worth noting that data sharing with Facebook is extremely limited for European users due to stronger user privacy protections in the EU.)
WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart also took to Twitter a few days ago to post a thread (later shared by Bosworth in the tweet above) trying to cut through the confusion and explain what’s actually going on.
“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,” Cathcart wrote. “It’s important for us to be clear this update describes business communication and does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook. It does not impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world.”
This whole controversy may be chalked up to users misreading confusing media reports, jumping to conclusions, and then participating in scaremongering on social media. But it’s also a reality Facebook must contend with that the lack of trust in WhatsApp is directly related to years of bad faith privacy pledges from Facebook and increasingly complex terms of service agreements no regular, non-lawyer user can reasonably comprehend.
It’s no wonder then that users are flocking to an app like Signal — managed by a nonprofit and subsisting on donations and wealthy benefactors like none other than WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton — when they feel they can no longer trust what’s really happening when they message their friends on their smartphone. Now, Facebook and WhatsApp face a long road of transparent communication and trust-building ahead if they want to get those people back.