WhatsApp’s New Privacy Policy Just Kicked In. Here’s What You Need to Know

Instead of a hard cutoff, the messaging app will gradually degrade and eventually cease to function if you don’t accept the changes.

At the beginning of the year,  WhatsApp took the seemingly mundane step of updating its terms of use and privacy policy, mostly focused on the app’s business offerings. The changes sparked a major backlash, though, because they inadvertently highlighted WhatsApp’s years-old policy of sharing certain user data, like phone numbers, with parent company Facebook. Rather than change the policy that sparked the controversy, WhatsApp instead moved the deadline for users to accept it from the original date of February 8 to Saturday. If you don’t? WhatsApp will become unusable.

But not all at once. If you haven’t accepted the new policy by now, you’ll start to see more pop-ups in WhatsApp outlining the changes with a big green Accept button at the bottom. If you tap it, WhatsApp will continue to share certain account data of yours with Facebook. If you’d rather not agree, you’ll at first be able to hit a back arrow in the upper left corner of the overlay. Over time, though, the pop-ups will appear more frequently. Eventually you won’t be able to click away at all, and the app’s functionality will start to degrade. 

WhatsApp originally indicated in February that anyone who declined the updates would immediately lose functionality. But the company has since opted to let the wheels very gradually come off the car over several weeks before the app careens into a ditch and stops working altogether.

“For the last several weeks we’ve displayed a notification in WhatsApp providing more information about the update,” the company said in a statement. “After giving everyone time to review, we’re continuing to remind those who haven’t had the chance to do so to review and accept. After a period of several weeks, the reminder people receive will eventually become persistent.”

Once you reach the point that WhatsApp has plastered its policy notification atop its interface, you’ll still be able to use the app in some capacity for a time. You’ll be able to field incoming calls, for instance, and if you have notifications turned on you can read and respond to messages that way. But you won’t be able to see your chat list or initiate contact of any kind with WhatsApp friends, because again, a privacy policy update will be blocking your path. After a few weeks of that stunted experience, WhatsApp will fully pull the plug, and you won’t even get calls or messages anymore.

The reality is that for most users, accepting the privacy policy changes won’t impact their interactions with WhatsApp very much. All communications on WhatsApp will still be end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning that your messages and photos will still only be viewable by you and the users you’re chatting with. And WhatsApp still won’t be able to access any of your communications or share them with Facebook. Meanwhile, WhatsApp willbe able to share user account information like your phone number, logs of how long and how often you use WhatsApp, device identifiers, IP addresses, and other details about your device with Facebook. Plus, WhatsApp can share transaction and payment data, cookies, and location information with Facebook if you grant permission. All of which has been true since 2016.

The strength of the backlash likely caught WhatsApp off-guard, given that it reminded users of an existing policy rather than creating a new one. Mere days after WhatsApp first announced the changes on January 4, the messaging app Telegram said it had gained tens of millions of users, and Signal boasted “unprecedented” growth. In an attempt to staunch the bleeding, WhatsApp delayed the full rollout of the new policies for months so users would have more time to learn about the changes. 

All Rights Reserved for Lily Hay Newman

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