Failure to accept the terms will mean losing access to WhatsApp after 8 February, the company has confirmed.
The policy changes are largely cosmetic, or relate to interactions with business accounts, and seem to have few actual privacy implications for most users, but highlight sharing between Whatsapp and parent company Facebook. That includes information such as users’ phone numbers, plus the phone numbers of contacts.
But that information is already being shared for the majority of users, for years.
In a major update to its information policies in August 2016, WhatsApp asked – but did not demand – that its users allow it to share a great deal of information with Facebook. The move raised serious privacy concerns at the time, for those who had joined WhatsApp before its acquisition by Facebook.
At the time, every WhatsApp user was informed that Facebook would, at a minimum, receive information for purposes “such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how [WhatsApp] services or [Facebook’s] are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.”
But it was optional, via an explicit opt out, to allow WhatsApp to share information so that Facebook could use it “to improve your experiences within their services such as making product suggestions (for example, of friends or connections, or of interesting content) and showing relevant offers and ads.”
“For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of,” WhatsApp said at the time.
Opting out was tricky: when presented with a pop-up around the new terms and conditions, users had to navigate to a separate screen to untick a box, or they had to go to their WhatsApp settings later, to untick a similar box just labelled “share my account info”.
That option was only available for 30 days, so those who did opt-out before the end of September 2016 were out of luck. Anyone who signed up subsequent to that date had to accept the updated terms – allowing detailed information sharing with Facebook – in order to use WhatsApp in the first place.
The current policy update has no room for such an opt-out, so every user has to agree to the information sharing.
But though it does not seem legally obliged to do so, now or in the future, Facebook says it will continue to honour the 2016 opt-out choice.
Here’s how to check if you opted out of sharing WhatsApp information with Facebook in 2016.
Checking if you were a WhatsApp user in 2016, and what was selected at the time, will take three days.
- In the mobile app – not the web or desktop version – go to the account details under “settings”
- You are looking for the “Request account info” option
- You can initiate the check on the next screen, where you’ll also be warned about the time delay
When the report is ready, WhatsApp will pop up a notification on your phone, and you’ll have a month to download it, before you’ll have to start the request process again.
The report should contain a great deal of information, including such potentially fascinating details as the names of all the WhatsApp groups you have ever been a member of.
But you are looking for a section headed “Terms of Service”, which will include a listing for “2016 Terms of Service”, showing when you accepted those. (If you did so when you installed WhatsApp after September 2016, it will list that date.)
The next entry is the crucial one, with the label “Data Sharing Opt-Out”. If that reads “No”, then WhatsApp is already sharing detailed information with Facebook. If not, you’ll have a “Yes” in that field, with a timestamp on when you opted out.