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WhatsApp does not share user contacts, says Facebook SA

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Facebook South Africa has responded to the Information Regulator’s (IR’s) data privacy concerns, saying user contact details will not be shared between the social media giant and its sister company WhatsApp.

Facebook’s response comes after the information watchdog this week revealed it had written a letter to Facebook South Africa, outlining concerns about the social media giant’s newly introduced privacy policy as it relates to SA.

The new policy allows the Facebook-owned messaging app to share certain data with Facebook – an option that users previously had a chance to opt out of.

In a statement, the IR said it is disturbed that citizens of the European Union will receive significantly higher privacy protection than people in SA and Africa who use the Facebook and WhatsApp platforms.

It also highlighted concerns about the possibility of WhatsApp sharing the contact information of its users, for a purpose other than the one for which the messaging app was specifically intended for.

In response, a Facebook spokesperson says: “We are reviewing a letter from the IR in South Africa, which relates to our privacy policy. To be clear, this update does not expand our [WhatsApp] ability to share data with Facebook and does not impact the privacy of users’ messages with friends or family, wherever they are in the world.”

WhatsApp, according to the statement, does not share user contacts with Facebook and that policy applies to users everywhere, including in SA.

“We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone.”

WhatsApp sparked public outcry when it updated its privacy policy in January.

The new terms led to scores of frustrated users across the globe boycotting WhatsApp, moving to rival messaging apps like Telegram and Signal.

While Facebook refutes claims it will share its users’ contact information, speculation among ICT analysts is rife that the purpose of the new terms of service is to improve the effectiveness and targeting of Facebook advertising, which will in turn drive up advertising revenue.

Arthur Goldstuck, founder of research consultancy World Wide Worx, told ITWeb in January: “Due to the near-monopoly Facebook enjoys over social media and instant messaging data gathering, this gives it a massively unfair advantage over any other media entity attempting to attract advertising.

“In the same way that Google's dominance of search and mobile user data has enabled it to monopolise search-based advertising, Facebook will do the same with social and messaging-based advertising.”

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