This comes in wake of the recent controversy surrounding data collected by Whatsapp as opposed to other messaging services. Recently, Forbes published a comparison of data collected by iMessage (Apple) and Whatsapp, and found that while Apple only collects e-mail address, phone number, search history and device ID, Whatsapp collects 25 different types of data including purchase history, coarse location, payment information, product interaction and advertising data.
This has raised privacy concerns among users worldwide and many are now looking for more secure channels of communication. Moreover, since Whatsapp is a part of the Facebook family of companies, data is also shared with other companies in this family. Facebook had acquired Whatsapp in 2014 and currently the family includes apps like Facebook and Instagram apart from Whatsapp.
But what exactly is the data that Whatsapp collects and why does it have so many people concerned?
Usage And Log Information. We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.
Device And Connection Information. We collect device and connection-specific information when you install, access, or use our Services. This includes information such as hardware model, operating system information, battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers (including identifiers unique to Facebook Company Products associated with the same device or account).
Location Information. We collect and use precise location information from your device with your permission when you choose to use location-related features, like when you decide to share your location with your contacts or view locations nearby or locations others have shared with you. There are certain settings relating to location-related information which you can find in your device settings or the in-app settings, such as location sharing. Even if you do not use our location-related features, we use IP addresses and other information like phone number area codes to estimate your general location (e.g., city and country). We also use your location information for diagnostics and troubleshooting purposes.
Sharing data with other Facebook owned apps
According to Whatsapp, “As part of the Facebook Companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, the other Facebook Companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings, including the Facebook Company Products.”
Privacy of messages
As far as messages go, Whatsapp says, “We do not retain your messages in the ordinary course of providing our Services to you. Instead, your messages are stored on your device and not typically stored on our servers. Once your messages are delivered, they are deleted from our servers.” The exception to this is messages that could not be delivered. Whatsapp says, “If a message cannot be delivered immediately (for example, if the recipient is offline), we keep it in encrypted form on our servers for up to 30 days as we try to deliver it. If a message is still undelivered after 30 days, we delete it.”
But the mass exodus from Whatsapp has already begun. Whatsapp chief Will Cathcart had to take to Twitter to defend his app saying, “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.” He further clarified that the update was restricted to business accounts, “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.”
The entire thread may be read here:
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.
— Will Cathcart (@wcathcart) January 8, 2021
Social media was especially abuzz after SpaceX chief Elon Musk suggested people start using Signal, an app that is perceived to be more respectful of people’s privacy.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 7, 2021
This led to mass downloads of the Signal app, causing some delays in registration. Signal gleefully tweeted:
Verification codes are currently delayed across several providers because so many new people are trying to join Signal right now (we can barely register our excitement). We are working with carriers to resolve this as quickly as possible. Hang in there.
— Signal (@signalapp) January 7, 2021
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