On February 19th 2014, Facebook announced it was buying WhatsApp for $19 billion USD. On January 4th 2021, WhatsApp – now owned by Facebook – announced it was changing its privacy policies and my phone lit up with worry from friends and family.
I'm known as 'the privacy guy' among contemporaries and Facebook's decision to change WhatsApp's policies seemed to be igniting concerns. The number of messages I received about the change left me with a question... What kills Facebook?
This is not the first time WhatsApp has changed its policies and it won't be the last but, luckily, the changes in question are pretty banal. Whilst the efficacy of WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption has been called into question in the past, the changes don't affect the privacy of messages sent or received between users. The changes simply allow Facebook to share your data with other parties, a practice they already engage in if you use any of their other products, like Instagram.
As a reminder, Facebook tracks everything you do, not just on their platform but across the web and in the real-world. Every status update, every like, every comment, every click, every scroll, every view, your entire browsing history whether you're logged in to Facebook or not, both on- and offline transactions, as well as your call, location, photo, and video data are all analysed by the platform. Facebook might not be able to read your WhatsApp messages but they do read your Messenger ones.
With Instagram, they've been accused of socially engineering your feed to be more addictive and provocative and both platforms have proven their abilities to manipulate human emotion and action for both good and bad.
Facebook is the best human research lab ever. There’s no need to get experiment participants to sign pesky consent forms as they’ve already agreed to the site’s data use policy. – Kashmir Hill
Facebook uses all this data to sell your attention to advertisers. Facebook platforms are designed to manipulate you to part with time and money because Facebook's success as a company relies on advertisers perceiving the platform to be a worthwhile return on investment. Until now, they've simply not bothered much with WhatsApp.
Working directly with Facebook data, this is how Cambridge Analytica was able to sway the results of national elections not just in the United States but around the world – by buying ads. The real-world implications and consequences of using Facebook products remain immense and, if left unregulated, some may say dangerous.
WhatsApp's new terms should be the least of your concerns if you're a user of other Facebook products which are considerably more damaging to your privacy. Facebook's rabid consumption of your data and the use of that data to influence the public is apparently not enough to kill Facebook. What is?
If you're concerned, your best bet is to leave Facebook products and try out some of the alternatives I mention in my 2019 post titled 'Encryption, Security, Privacy' which you can read at /security.