The clarification comes days after a change in its terms of service, which are mandatory and will come into effect next month on February 8th. The new terms give WhatsApp the right to share the data it collects from users with parent Facebook and group company Instagram, even if users don’t have accounts on these platforms. While this sharing of data was optional before, it has become mandatory now. Installs for rival apps such as Telegram and Signal, seen as more secure, have gone up in the last week. India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, with over 450 million active users.
WhatsApp has clarified that it can’t see private messages or hear calls, and neither can Facebook, it doesn’t keep call logs, can’t see the shared location or share contacts with Facebook. It also said that groups remain private.
However, if you are chatting with a business account on WhatsApp, the scenario is altogether different. “Messaging with businesses is different than messaging with your family or friends. Some large businesses need to use hosting services to manage their communication. This is why we’re 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. But 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. To make sure you’re informed, we clearly label conversations with businesses that are choosing to use hosting services from Facebook,” the post said.
In case you use its commerce feature Shops, it can use your shopping activity to serve personalized ads on Facebook and Instagram. WhatsApp’s new policy has started hurting its install numbers, and more importantly its perception among users. Prominent voices such as Anand Mahindra, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, and Sameer Nigam have spoken about using Signal, an app that received ringing endorsements from the likes of Elon Musk and Edward Snowden.
According to the latest data from SensorTower for India, Signal saw 2.3 million downloads from Jan 6 to Jan 10, vs 24,000 between Jan 1 to Jan 5. However, WhatsApp download saw 1.3 million downloads between Jan 6 to 10 vs 2 million from Jan 1 to Jan 5. Telegram saw 1.5 million downloads from Jan 6 to Jan 10 vs 1.3 million from Jan 1 to Jan 5.