- WhatsApp’s new policy about sharing data with Facebook has concerned many of its users.
- Experts told Insider that although the app won’t share message content, it will share who, where, and when you talk to people.
- All of them recommended that users switch to Signal, a smaller encrypted messaging app, as it’s “highly trusted.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
After a change to its terms of service sparked privacy concerns among users, WhatsApp on Monday clarified that its new policy doesn’t affect the privacy of people’s messages with friends or family.
The messenger app, which sells itself as a privacy focused service, will next month force its users to agree to let Facebook and its subsidiaries collect their personal data on WhatsApp, including phone numbers and locations.
If users don’t accept the new terms and conditions by February 8, they will be kicked off the app.
WhatsApp said in a statement Monday that it wanted to address “rumours going around,” saying the policy update, which takes effect on February 8, “does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way.”
This subsequently led to WhatsApp rivals, Signal and Telegram, seeing millions of users flocking to their apps. They hit the number one spots on Google and Apple’s app stores on Wednesday, and Signal got Elon Musk’s approval with one tweet: “Use Signal.”
So, should WhatsApp users really be worried about these new privacy changes?
Experts told Insider that WhatsApp will not be sharing any content of messages because they are decrypted. But the app will be able to access the metadata – in other words, who messages whom, when, and from where.
Alan Woodword, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey, told Insider that the mere fact WhatsApp is sharing any sort of personal data with Facebook is concerning as “Facebook openly says that their business model is to use data related to users for profit.”
Woodword, who prefers to use Signal rather than WhatsApp, said he was surprised when he saw the news because Facebook said it wouldn’t collect data from WhatsApp when it took over the messaging app in 2014.
Users may just stick with WhatsApp because of its fanbase
Although privacy-minded people will most likely turn to apps like Signal, Woodword thinks “there is a large enough cadre of WhatsApp users that one is probably going to have to continue to use it to stay in touch with them.”
He also suspects that users will stick with WhatsApp because they will “accept the social contract with Facebook that they can use the platform as long as they share data in return for it being free.”
Professor Eerke Boiten, director of the cyber technology institute at De Montfort University in Leicester, told Insider giving users an ultimatum on accepting the new terms is “the worst thing WhatsApp has done.”
That’s probably rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, he said.
WhatsApp’s promise of only letting the policy affect messages sent to business accounts is “potentially a more limited privacy violation,” according to Boiten. But it depends on whether Facebook “keep control of this access method.”
Boiten said he expects data, especially contacts and communication metadata, will be shared “whenever and wherever [Facebook and WhatsApp] can get away with it.”
Signal is ‘highly trusted’
Both Boiten and Woodword said they’d recommend users switch to safer, alternative messaging apps. “Signal is highly trusted,” Boiten said, adding that Telegram has also “upped its game” in the encryption field.
Wolfie Christl, a researcher and privacy advocate at Cracked Labs, also joins the chorus of WhatsApp critics who recommend users switch to Signal. His reasoning is that the app is “run by a nonprofit organization and its source code is publicly available for people to examine.”
The week starting January 4, Signal had 7.5 million downloads, a 4,200% increase on the previous week. Telegram, had 9 million downloads, a 91% increase.
“The more people join such services, the safer people who really need to have such services become,” Boiten added.