WhatsApp has changed its terms and services to allow Facebook to access users' phone numbers.
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 difference two years make, because yesterday the company made an announcement which sure sounded like these noble ideals are gradually being corroded. The terms of service 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 would 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 however. “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 company contacting part 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 WiFi would allow a WhatsApp alert through.
Then it gets a bit 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:
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.
You can go to account settings and untick share with Facebook.
I haven't been able to confirm this method myself, as the new T&Cs haven't reached my handset, but will test and confirm as soon as I can.