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Inevitably, WhatsApp Is Starting to Share Some User Data With Facebook, but You Can (Partially) Opt Out

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WhatsApp has a thing for privacy. The contents of the messages you send to other users on the popular chat platform are encrypted end-to-end, meaning they can’t be read by anyone who intercepts them—even WhatsApp. However, they do know things about you and your messages that aren’t directly related to the specific words you typed, and they’re going to let Facebook in on that data.

That’s not entirely surprising, after Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion, and Facebook makes its money by essentially selling you to advertisers based on user data. $19 billion would be a big investment to not use the platform to try to get more user data to make money off of. That was never going to fit in well with WhatsApp’s commitment to privacy—despite what they wrote in a blog post shortly after the acquisition, titled “Setting the Record Straight”: “Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication.”

However, in a post today, they explained that Facebook would have access to users’ phone numbers (but not their WhatsApp numbers), among other, less-specific data as they “coordinate more” with Facebook. Their privacy policy has been updated to reflect this, and the reasoning is spelled out pretty clearly: “[b]y connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them.” You can opt out of having your data used by Facebook for the purposes of advertising, but it’s unclear what other ends your data can still be used for.

Other benefits are mentioned, like curbing spam on WhatsApp and adding more services to the platform, but it’s hard to ignore that part of the impetus is helping Facebook to sell ads. Sure, the language is always carefully crafted to make it sound like Facebook’s doing you a favor by trying to serve you ads that you might actually be interested in, but in my experience, most people in the Internet aren’t interested in any ads. However, businesses are definitely interested in comprehensive user data that allows them to target ads at users they believe are more likely to actually click on them.

It’s hard to blame Facebook, though, since it’s doubtful they’d have over half the Internet-using population as monthly active users—or even be in business at all—if their service was paid for directly by users. It’s also important to note that the ads will be served on Facebook and won’t interfere with WhatsApp directly. But, let’s be clear: They can say that serving relevant ads is a service to the users all they want, but the benefits are far greater for Facebook and advertisers. That’s understandable, but so is privacy-minded individuals looking elsewhere for there messaging needs.

(via Gizmodo, image via Melina Sampaio Manfrinatti on Flickr)

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