WhatsApp opens up to ads for first time

26/08/2016

WhatsApp has updated its privacy policy in a move that will see it share its users’ phone numbers with parent company Facebook, meaning the chat app will get ads for the first time.

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In a move that has sparked privacy concerns among some industry commentators, WhatsApp will now share users' phone numbers with the social network, which it will use to provide "more relevant" friend suggestions and advertisements.

Using the data, Facebook will be able to match people who have exchanged phone numbers, but have not added one another as "friends" on the social network.

WhatsApp will also share information about when people last used the service, but said it would not share the contents of messages, which are encrypted.

“Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. 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 will also be sharing the data with the “Facebook family of companies” — so presumably its user data could also be fed to VR firm Oculus Rift, another Fb acquisition.

which, once a user accepts its new T&Cs, will see it start to share some user data with its parent company — including for ad-targeting purposes on the latter service.

“[B]y coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp,” WhatsApp writes in ablog on the change today.

“Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. 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 will also be sharing the data with the “Facebook family of companies” — so presumably its user data could also be fed to VR firm Oculus Rift, another Fb acquisition.

"Potentially the start of much wider data sharing campaign"

Commenting on WhatsApp’s change to its privacy terms from Emma Wright, Commercial Technology Partner at technology and digital media law firm, Kemp Little, said: “The first change to WhatsApp’s privacy terms since its acquisition by Facebook was always going to receive a lot of attention. Setting aside whether or not Facebook has breached its commitments it made to the US Federal Trade Commission upon acquisition of WhatsApp, it is a brave move by WhatsApp to start sharing data when it majors on the encryption it uses to protect messages from being viewed by third parties.

“From a privacy perspective, WhatsApp has provided users with the opportunity to opt out to the sharing of data for advertising, in practice this feature currently appears hard to implement. WhatsApp will also need to consider whether the consent it obtains from its European user base now, will be sufficient when the higher standard of consent applies as set out in the GDPR from 25 May 2018.

“Facebook’s business plan to monetise its users’ data is well known so this is potentially the start of much wider data sharing campaign although this will obviously be dependent on whether the WhatsApp user base remain loyal or start moving to competitor messaging systems which are more privacy protective. Either way this remains a bold move by Facebook given its ongoing litigation and arguably fraught relationship with the European data protection framework over its approach to privacy and transfers of data.”

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