WhatsApp dropped a bombshell on its over one billion users on Thursday when it announced that it would share their names and phone numbers with its parent company Facebook “to communicate with businesses that matter to you.” This means, Facebook will use the data to direct ads to you. This is the first time that WhatsApp, the messaging application rolled out in 2009 and acquired by Facebook in 2014, has changed its terms of service and is a complete U-turn by its co-founder Jan Koum, who had earlier asserted that “we will not ever sell your personal information to anyone.”
For Facebook though, this is not new. It has a history of violating privacy. Back in 2007, it had launched Beacon to get hold of details of what its users did on third-party sites, only to roll it back after protests and even a class action suit. In 2012, it had conducted an experiment on scores of its users to check if it could affect their emotions by inundating their newsfeeds with various posts, without their knowledge. And, it is no secret that it has been trying hard to monetise its vast user base in different ways. Now, WhatsApp users have a 30-day window to opt out of data sharing. But, how many actually do read the terms and conditions? Users should at least now start taking that seriously instead of mechanically pressing accept. WhatsApp is used by virtually everyone who has a smartphone since it offers privacy, which in fact is its selling point.
There are genuine fears among privacy advocates that Facebook could compromise its users. Reports say Facebook received over 46,000 requests for information from governments in different parts of the world in the second half of last year alone. In this age of increased surveillance, there is every chance of information being shared and used against anyone, be it activists or perceived opponents. May be, it is time to think of other messaging services like Telegram which don’t rely on an ad-based model.