TALK SAFER: APPS TAKE PRIVACY FIGHT TO FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE
AppleMagazine|AppleMagazine #482
As messaging giant WhatsApp prepares to hand over more data to Facebook, users are flocking to rival services in protest, with Signal jumping from 250,000 downloads on the App Store a week to almost 10 million.

The move sparks debate over the relationships we hold with the world’s biggest technology companies and a new war on privacy is rearing its head.

WHATSAPP CONTROVERSY

As Facebook continues to integrate its Messenger, Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp services to harvest more data from consumers and to futureproof itself against anti-trust investigations and growing pleas to break itself up, the company announced early January that it was planning to make changes to its privacy policy. For the first time, the application will begin sharing information about what you share on the app with Facebook, designed to build a stronger picture of users and deliver more effective advertising as a result. The firm added a pop-up to its instant messaging platform, telling users that they had no choice but to comply with the changes. Facebook said that, on February 8, users who don’t wish to adhere to the app’s policy will no longer be able to use the application and instead must use another tool, though the company has now pushed the deadline to May following criticism.

Back in July 2020, Facebook changed its WhatsApp policies to include sharing data with “third-party services or other Facebook Company Products that are integrated with our Services,” though at the time users were able to opt-out. Everything from your IP address and home address to phone numbers, mobile device information, transaction data, and other information can be carried over from WhatsApp to add to Facebook’s already-overgrown picture of consumers, with millions of trackers following users’ moves across the web. Apple fought back against some of these changes in 2020 with iOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur, though the company delayed its anti-tracking permission rules to give developers more time. As Facebook continues to grapple against governments, private lobbyists, and consumers, the latest move to bring WhatsApp in line with its other services has not gone down well, and now consumers are looking to rival messaging apps in protest of the change.

In India, home to the world’s biggest WhatsApp userbase, the company has lost the trust of its users, so much so that Facebook has taken out newspaper advertisements to ask them to stay, clarifying some of its privacy policy changes to appease concerns from customers. Speaking of the policy updates, Facebook said that it was “giving businesses the option to use secure hosting services from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers, answer questions, and send helpful information like purchase receipts,” and added that “Whether you communicate with a business by phone, email, or WhatsApp, it can see what you’re saying and may use that information for its own marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook,” but for many users, their statement came too late.

THE RISE OF RIVALS

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