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WhatsApp extends privacy policy deadline amid user backlash

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WhatsApp has extended the implementation of its new privacy policy to 15 May 2021, as users increasing flock to its competitors Telegram and Signal.

The Facebook-owned messaging app sparked a public outcry on social media recently after Android and iOS users received an in-app notification about its new policy, which allows WhatsApp to share certain data with Facebook – an option that users previously had a chance to opt out of.

Users were initially given a deadline of 8 February 2021 to accept the updated terms of service in order to continue using WhatsApp, which has about two billion active users globally and an estimated 20 million users in SA.

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

In a Twitter status update on Friday, the messaging and voice over IP service announced its privacy policy extension, noting this will allow WhatsApp more time to inform users about the new policy.

“Thank you to everyone who’s reached out. We're still working to counter any confusion by communicating directly with @WhatsApp users. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on 8 February and we’ll be moving back our business plans until after May,” it reads.

South Africa’s Information Regulator announced last week that it is assessing the instant messaging platform’s revised terms and conditions.

Clarifying “misinformation”

For more information, a Web link re-directing users to WhatsApp’s blog post is included in the Twitter status update.

In the blog post, the messenger app addresses the “confusion and misinformation” which have been causing concern around the privacy policy update.

“WhatsApp was built on a simple idea: what you share with your friends and family stays between you. This means we will always protect your personal conversations with end-to-end encryption, so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see these private messages. It’s why we don’t keep logs of who everyone’s messaging or calling. We also can’t see your shared location and we don’t share your contacts with Facebook,” it explains.

The messenger app firm also notes it is going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on its platform.

“We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on 15 May 2021,” it adds.

Millions of WhatsApp users across the globe have been boycotting the messenger app since the new policy announcement, with Telegram adding 25 million users between 10 and 13 January, while Signal was downloaded by 17.8 million users in the same period, according to reports.

Despite this, analysts told ITWeb last week that locally, less than one million users are anticipated to ditch the platform, as its competitors have smaller user bases in SA.

“Locals are more likely to start using Telegram and/or Signal (and/or another app) as an additional application concurrently with WhatsApp to remain in touch with those individuals who move away from WhatsApp altogether,” said Dobek Pater, telecoms analyst at Africa Analysis.

Explaining how Facebook will use WhatsApp data, Arthur Goldstuck, founder of research consultancy World Wide Worx, noted Facebook's ostensible use of WhatsApp data is geared to more efficient targeting by advertisers and increased personalisation of the adverts that users see.

“The purpose of the new terms of service is to improve the effectiveness of Facebook advertising, which will in turn drive up advertising revenue. 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,” he commented.

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