Information Commissioner’s Office investigates WhatsApp’s Facebook data share
Update: It seems the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has decided to take a closer look at the deal, based on the number of consumers the move affects. The commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement that while “some might consider it’ll give them a better service, others may be concerned by the lack of control”.
“Our role is to pull back the curtain on things like this, ensuring that companies are being transparent with the public about how their personal data is being shared and protecting consumers by making sure the law is being followed,” she added.
The original piece continues below:
Back in 2014, shortly after Facebook acquired WhatsApp, the company thought it was really important to “set the record straight” in a blog post allaying privacy fears. Here’s an extract of what they wrote:
“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that.”
What a different two years make, as yesterday the company made an announcement that sure sounded like these noble ideals are being corroded. The terms of service have changed, granting parent company Facebook access to users’ phone numbers, and allowing companies to contact its users.
Of course, the company is putting a positive spin on things, claiming that this level of data sharing with Facebook will allow it to tackle spam and abuse, as well as helping people with “better friend suggestions and more relevant ads”.
The actual contents of your messages, the company says, will remain private. “Your encrypted messages stay private and no-one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else.
“We won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and we still won’t sell, share, or give your phone number to advertisers.”
The part about companies being able to contact you is more likely to raise eyebrows as a headline, but for now is actually pretty mild. The company suggests that messages usually reserved for SMS updates – such as flight alerts from airports, or updates from your bank – could come from WhatsApp instead. That, I can see, is potentially useful: if you’re underground and speeding to Heathrow Airport, for example, you wouldn’t see an SMS until you arrived, but Tube Wi-Fi would allow a WhatsApp alert through.
Then it gets a little more dubious, though, with the company adding that marketing messages would also be allowed. “Messages you may receive containing marketing could include an offer for something that might interest you.” Hmmmm.
How to stop WhatsApp sharing your phone number with Facebook
If all of this doesn’t sound as reassuring as the company hope, you can partially opt out. There are two ways to do so, the first of which you’ve likely already missed if you are in the habit of blindly accepting terms and conditions:
That’s right: If you scroll right to the very bottom of the updated terms and conditions, you’ll find a teeny-tiny box preventing Facebook from gaining access to your phone number.
But you’ve already pressed “Agree” blindly, so what can you do? Well, you have 30 days to act, so best get cracking.
This has now been confirmed of working, courtesy of Tom’s iPhone. Here are screenshots of the various steps to help you along: