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Facebook will access WhatsApp data

News, 26 August 2016

SAN FRANCISCO: WhatsApp, the instant messaging app acquired by Facebook in 2014 that has always had a strict policy about data privacy, has now announced that it will share user information with its parent company.

In addition, for the first time, businesses will be allowed to send messages to users, although third-party banner ads and spam will continue to be disallowed.

WhatsApp revealed the planned changes to its privacy policy in a blog post that emphasised its commitment to giving users the "most reliable experience".

However, this is the first time that WhatsApp has shared data with Facebook, which has formidable data-tracking capabilities and makes the vast majority of its income from ads.

"By coordinating more with Facebook, we'll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp," the blog post said.

"And by 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.

"For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you've never heard of."

The statement reiterated that WhatsApp's end-to-end message encryption will remain in place – meaning no one, including WhatsApp and Facebook, can read them – and it promised that users' phone numbers will not be sold or shared with anyone else, including advertisers.

But WhatsApp did state: "We want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam."

It suggested that these business communications might include flight alerts from airlines or notifications from banks about a potentially fraudulent transaction.

Even so, data-sharing and allowing business messages mark a first for WhatsApp and already some media outlets have pointed out that at the time of its acquisition the company told users that "respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA".

Data sourced from WhatsApp, The Verge; additional content by Warc staff