If you’re comfortable with Facebook’s use of data (or that of its much closer subsidiary Instagram), it might be difficult to care about this. The company was recently forced by Apple to provide a privacy “nutritional label” on its iOS app, revealing how it works with user data. The labels disclosed more than 100 different pieces of data that may be collected, many of which are directly linked to user profiles, including health and fitness data, “sensitive info” and search histories. For the typical user, who has an account on both services, adding in the small amount of information WhatsApp has is a drop in a bucket by comparison.
But the change does start to eat away at the idea that you can be on WhatsApp without a Facebook footprint. The two apps’ very different histories and intended uses have led to a split in demographics among their users, and a small but significant proportion of WhatsApp users, drawn by the encryption, ad-free nature and no-frills interface, avoid Facebook itself while still using the chat app it owns.
In response, Facebook has paused this change. For Charles Arthur, this says a lot in that Facebook were able to act so swiftly.
The irony is so thick you could spread it on toast. Misinformation spread on WhatsApp has been blamed for deaths in India and election distortion in Brazil, but the company slow-walked complaints there. But when people start defecting, that’s a different matter: it acts like it’s on fire.