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14 January 2021
WhatsApp looks to stem damage over privacy update
Data protection & privacyWebsites, online services, appsGlobal
WhatsApp has sought to reassure its users over privacy fears after a planned update to its terms caused a surge in downloads of rival messaging services Telegram and Signal.
The new terms, which only apply outside Europe, say users must agree to share information with WhatsApp parent company Facebook. WhatsApp says this simply clarifies how some businesses may use Facebook’s servers to store details of chats they have with customers using the WhatsApp platform.
The notification was sent to all two billion WhatsApp users, although the update doesn’t apply to anyone in Europe or the UK.
Signal was reported to have seen 260,000 downloads globally in the week before the notification went out and 8.8 million the following week. There were big surges in particular in the UK, US and India. Telegram saw a rise from 6.5 million to 11 million over the same period, during which WhatsApp downloads shrank from 11.3 million to 9.2 million.
WhatsApp posted a new Q&A on its site to clarify it position and “address some rumors” – it stressed it will not be sharing messages, groups or call logs. These are encrypted and cannot be seen by WhatsApp or Facebook.
“This whole controversy may be chalked up to users misreading confusing media reports, jumping to conclusions, and then participating in scaremongering on social media.
“But it’s also a reality Facebook must contend with that the lack of trust in WhatsApp is directly related to years of bad faith privacy pledges from Facebook and increasingly complex terms of service agreements.” Commentator Nick Statt, in The Verge.