Earlier this year, we asked you if you use WhatsApp. Over 60% of participating readers confirmed that it’s rather popular. We gave its iOS and Android versions glowing reviews. But it’s recently gone into partnership with Facebook, causing some to question whether their details remain as personal as before.
Here’s what you need to know about that messaging service sitting in your phone.
What Information Does WhatsApp Collect?
We made this video to show you how easy and simple Voice Messaging can be: http://t.co/uAnL0AQMll – are you using Voice Messages yet?
— WhatsApp Inc. (@WhatsApp) August 8, 2013
Their full Privacy Notice can be found right at the bottom of the Help/FAQ section of the app, but basically, the service collects User Provided Information, which covers your phone number and push name, obviously, as well as billing address once you’ve been using WhatsApp over a year. Occasionally, your address book is also sifted through in order to update your list of contacts who are also using it.
In most cases, they don’t sell any of this information on, fortunately, which is why the app has stayed ad-free since their inception. Nonetheless, your UPI is shared with third-parties in order to improve and maintain the service.
Just like all websites, the Whatsapp site sends both persistent and session cookies: the former helps the site to load again faster in future, while the latter are deleted when you shut down your browser. Similarly, theirs too collects your IP address, page requests, referring URLs bookending your visit to WhatsApp, and other data generally used to monitor average audiences.
Anonymous information like this is used to calculate figures about general usage, in order to improve the service and, like most websites, present to potential advertisers.
Information WhatsApp Doesn’t Collect
According to their Privacy Notice, WhatsApp won’t store personal information like names and addresses: your contact names and numbers are synched on your phone, not on the company’s servers, and this data isn’t sent to them.
Neither do they collect location-based service data, unlike Facebook.
Nevertheless, WhatsApp can’t guarantee the safety of any of the data sent through their app – though this is really a legal clause – so if you’ve been hacked, messages, for instance, might be at risk. If their servers are victim of breaches, you’ll be notified either through the app or as a general notice on their site. Oh, and MakeUseOf is likely to mention it too!
As Jan Koum, founder of WhatsApp, states:
“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that.”
Does WhatsApp Collect Messages?
Short answer: not normally. Longer answer…
Messages aren’t typically kept or copied by WhatsApp for an extended period of time, or as they state, not “in the normal course of business.” Their servers, however, do store your messages for 30 days if they’re undelivered; beyond this time, they’re deleted. If the intended recipient is online though, your message will go to them – via WhatsApp’s servers but most importantly not stored there.
new daily record: 20B messages sent (inbound) and 44B messages received (outbound) by our users = 64B messages handled in just 24 hours.
— WhatsApp Inc. (@WhatsApp) April 2, 2014
Don’t forget you can delete your chat history as well for added privacy. If you do this by mistake, you can retrieve your lost messages – but does this mean they do store your messages? Thankfully not: the database of messages is stored in your phone’s internal or external memory and backed-up daily. It’s a clever way of providing a good service without infringing on your privacy.
Alternatively, iOS users can store back-ups in the iCloud. After the recent celebrity hackings, though, that might not reassure everyone!
WhatsApp’s Privacy Notice states that they log “general information” including “time and date stamps and the mobile phone numbers the messages were sent from and to.”
Files sent using the service are retained even after being delivered, though are deleted and “stripped of any identifiable information” within an undisclosed amount of time, only referred to as a “short period.”
Okay, So What’s The Problem?
Facebook’s privacy settings are questionable (not that it stops over a billion users worldwide) – so much so, we created an extensive guide. People get genuinely concerned about what information is being collected and what’s publicly available. If you are worried, there’s a privacy check-up tool to help regain control.
Nonetheless, Jan Koum and Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, insist that nothing will change for WhatsApp. Koum, in particular, was keen to relax users, writing:
“Above all else, I want to make sure you understand how deeply I value the principle of private communication. For me, this is very personal… Our fundamental values and beliefs will not change. Our principles will not change.”
There have been other concerns about the app in the past: notably, last year, the combined might of the Dutch and Canadian Governments investigated WhatsApp’s ability to access complete address books, including details of numbers not using the service, and the company’s cryptography.
What Can You Do?
If you’re still worried about your privacy, you can alter who sees your last seen (time/date stamp), profile picture (thanks to a recent update), and status. ‘Everyone’ essentially means ‘publically’ i.e. those with WhatsApp. ‘My Contacts’ is everyone in your address book i.e. family and friends. ‘Nobody’ means… Well, nobody at all! It specifically depends on your operating system, but generally, these can be altered through:
Settings > Account > Privacy
Those using iPhones can also disable iCloud back-up (or alter its frequency), so a record of your messages isn’t kept. All you have to do is:
Settings > Chat Settings > Chat Backup > Auto Backup
You can also educate yourself on key points of concern, like how to keep your photos safe on WhatsApp.
Alternatively, there are other SMS-like apps that favour privacy, so if you get too nervous about the involvement of Facebook, you could always switch. The only problem would be how many of your contacts also have whichever service you switch to…
Too Good To Be True?
WhatsApp and Facebook might sound odd bed-fellows, but if the former sticks to its principles, the collaboration is surely a good thing. As to the question of whether they will maintain their standards: well, we’ll have to wait and see!
Are you suspicious? Or do you think WhatsApp are true to their word? Maybe you’ve had an experience you’d like to share – bad or good! Let’s try to keep the Internet a generally positive place, eh? Let us know below.