WhatsApp Update: Why you should quit

Although WhatsApp has managed to overcome its privacy backlash, there will be more as you lose access. Worse, WhatsApp’s terrible start to 2021 has revealed a serious problem that is difficult to fix for its 2 million users. Many more users are likely to move on. Do you want to do the same?

It’s hard for security professionals to tell WhatsApp users to stop using the app. It has made secure messaging more popular than any other messaging platform. It was also bought by the most malicious data harvesting machine in the world. It was inevitable that there would be some reckoning.

WhatsApp has managed to overcome its privacy backlash in 2021. However, it did so by focusing its security credentials and playing down its data sharing issues with Facebook. Cyjax CISO Ian Thornton Trump explains that metadata–data about you data–is nearly as powerful as the actualinformation.

We must not forget that there were two parts to the backlash. Apple first introduced privacy labels that made it clear that WhatsApp was able to collect more data than Signal, Telegram, and iMessage. It is not important whether that data is shared with Facebook, but it is just as important as the reason for collecting it.

The privacy label on WhatsApp is terrible. WhatsApp is the only secure messaging app that can harvest “data linked to” you, including your device ID, to “developer’s advertising and marketing.” Other messengers also gather your data in order to customize functionality. WhatsApp may also harvest it for other purposes.

“Other applications,”WhatsApp now tells usersthat they are “better because they know even more information than WhatsApp- we believe people want apps that are reliable and secure, even though they only have a limited amount of data.”

It is not “limited data”. It is a vast array of data that are all tied to your identity. WhatsApp knows why it needs your metadata. It tells us this in its privacy policies. No one claims that Signal, iMessage, or Telegram is unreliable or unsafe simply because they collect less data. How does WhatsApp “require” your data for advertising?

Remember, if you get the product for free, you are the product. This is not difficult.

The second, and most significant, part of the backlash was the forced terms change. It seemed that WhatsApp was gathering this data and sharing with Facebook – that was the misreporting. WhatsApp claimed that all data is not shared with Facebook. WhatsApp suddenly revealed that data sharing is possible. This is not new. These privacy labels are striking.

Moreover, it was not clear what the reason for collecting this data was. WhatsApp seemed to believe that the backlash would pass and that we would all forget. The message stated that we collect it because it is important. However, there wasn’t any information on the exact purpose of the data or how it was used. This is your data. You have the right of information about what data is being collected and how it’s used.

WhatsApp is a completely free platform. They can also say that we collect certain data fields to send relevant ads to you. Users can decide whether or not they are comfortable with this. They are not allowed to obfuscate or refuse to disclose the subject, even though it is an inevitability part of their free service.

However, the majority of users agree that some data collection is worth it in exchange for access to free platforms. There must be a limit. Transparency is essential. It is difficult to argue that data collection is proportionate to the services offered. Facebook generated $28.1 billion in revenue last quarter. It’s not making a living.

WhatsApp’s particular backlash has been exaggerated. The terms change is much more benign than was originally reported. WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook wants its business customers to be able to communicate with them on WhatsApp. However, this can only happen if you consent to these contacts. However, WhatsApp may store some messages outside of its end-to-end encryption, if you agree to this.

This is not a problem. Who cares about the security of your messages with your dry cleaner or supermarket–especially given you have opted in each specific chat? It still violates WhatsApp’s data handling terms, so it needs to change. WhatsApp claims it must sell services in order to keep the Messenger free from malware. WhatsApp’s metadata has been subject to late scrutiny, and that has not gone well. WhatsApp’s privacy problem is not going back to its Pandora’s Box.

Now you have a few more weeks to accept the new WhatsApp terms. WhatsApp now confirms in a somewhat confusing FAQ that you won’t be able to use all the functionality of WhatsApp until your acceptance. It states that you will be able receive notifications and calls for a brief time, but not be able read or send messages through the app.

WhatsApp claims that “if your application has not been accepted by May 15, WhatsApp will not delete it.” However, you will lose access to your account “after a short period.”

What does this really mean? Although you will not be able access your account for some time, you can still read and send messages. Your account will appear to be “inactive” according to WhatsApp. This is explained in the policy. WhatsApp accounts are usually deleted after 120 days of inactivity to maintain security, limit data retention and protect our users’ privacy. Inactivity is when the user has not connected to WhatsApp.

This is all confusing. WhatsApp has not said that it will delete accounts after a “short period” or how long that grace period is. However, media reports claim that deletions will occur and that this is not correct.

WhatsApp was confused by its plans, as it delayed the February 8 deadline to accept the new terms. WhatsApp stated on January 15 that it would give users ample time to read and understand the terms. Users can rest assured that we have never intended to delete accounts based upon this information and will not do so again.

This implies that accounts will not be deleted. Despite headlines warning otherwise, it’s possible they won’t. WhatsApp declined to confirm this. I again asked them. WhatsApp claims that it has extended the effective date to May 15, but they have not stated why. WhatsApp will not delete an account if you don’t accept by that date. Until you accept, WhatsApp will not allow you to use all of its functionality.

One could be even more skeptical about a January 15th tweet that stated that accounts would not go away because of the changes to terms. “We never intended to delete accounts based upon this ” and that we would not do so again. This was followed by news that accounts would be locked out or deleted if the terms were not accepted by May 15.

WhatsApp declined to comment on the apparent contradiction.

In January, I advised users that they keep using WhatsApp even though they might consider other options, such as Signal. I stated that there was no reason for users to abandon WhatsApp and that the issue surrounding the terms being changed had been exaggerated. WhatsApp’s handling of this situation may change my mind.

This was a chance to listen and engage with users, not to blitz them with slick PR while sticking strictly to Plan A. Apple has also removed ad tracking and introduced privacy labels. Either platforms have to change their behavior or risk losing customers to other platforms. Facebook has clearly stated its opposition to Apple’s changes. WhatsApp is following suit.

These privacy terms can be agreed to and there is nothing to worry about. WhatsApp’s insistence on data collection and refusal of to review the situation are pure Facebook. This is the most obvious sign of where WhatsApp is headed.

Many of us are unlikely to stop using WhatsApp, unless we agree to the new terms. It is possible to replace it as our default messaging app. Many of us experienced the same thing with SMS, and we switched to WhatsApp ironically. Is it really time to quit using WhatsApp? Perhaps it is.

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