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WHATS APP WITH FACEBOOK? The social network privacy dilemma.


If you are a WhatsApp user, you have been asked to accept the new privacy terms if you wish to continue using WhatsApp from 8 February 2021. This assumed take it or leave it ‘option’ (on the face of it) seems to be generating an understandable reaction of fear about the integrity, privacy, and security of our personal information that we share on WhatsApp.

For the layman who is not familiar with technical legal terms, these ‘ultimatum’ type communications can be intimidating. However, this food for thought has come to the table at a particularly opportune time, given the imminent enforcement provisions of the POPIA[1] in June.


The communication from WhatsApp speaks to the requirement of transparency and openness from responsible persons or operators (as defined in the POPIA and GDPR[2], respectively). Instead of being kept in the dark about how our information is used and shared, WhatsApp is promoting our rights as data subjects to understand how our data will be processed and shared with third parties (i.e., Facebook and its affiliates) and make an informed choice – to consent or dissent. As such, the dilemma need not be so; instead, let’s take this opportunity to empower ourselves in knowing what’s up with our data.


On that note:


What does WhatsApp’s new privacy policy (“the new policy) say exactly? The primary concern is whether my communications via WhatsApp are private and secure? 


The new policy states that:


“As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from and shares information with this family of companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.” [3]


Firstly, we need to understand what types or categories of personal information WhatsApp intends to share with its new family member, Facebook. The good news is that the end-to-end encryption feature of WhatsApp retains its integrity. Simply put, your X-rated chats or condemnation of your mother-in-law is not “collected” or stored by WhatsApp and will not be shared.  The type of personal information that WhatsApp intends to share is data which, if you have a Facebook account, is likely to be already stored and processed by Facebook by virtue of you having voluntarily provided it. This personal information includes contact numbers, IP addresses, profile names and pictures, status updates, and diagnostic or meta-data (such as when and for how long a user was online).


So, what’s really new then?


The main updates to the privacy policy relate to the way that WhatsApp is used for business messaging purposes, online shopping/e-commerce, and business discovery. According to WhatsApp, this means firstly that it is giving businesses the option to use secure hosting services from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers, answer questions, and send helpful information such as purchase receipts. The business can view the message content (on WhatsApp) and may use that information for marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook. WhatsApp will label conversations with businesses that are choosing to use hosting services from Facebook and will send a message to the user informing them. If you do not want to continue communicating with the business because of this, then, as a data subject, you are given the option to stop.[4] Secondly, with Facebook-branded commerce features like Shops, some businesses will display their products or service in the app. This feature will be optional, and WhatsApp will inform you about how your data is being shared with Facebook. Thirdly, you may see an advertisement on Facebook with a button to message a business using WhatsApp. If you have WhatsApp installed on your phone, you will be given the option to message that business. Facebook may use the way you interact with these advertisements to personalize the ads you see on Facebook.[5]


Need more info on WhatsApp’s privacy policy or assistance with any other data privacy and processing related matter?  Don’t hesitate to contact our data and privacy law team at O’Reilly Law.


Written by Alexis Levor.


Alexis is a senior associate at O’Reilly Law, specializing in regulatory law.




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[1] The Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.

[2] The General Data Protection Regulation.

[3] WhatsApp Privacy Policy.

[4] https://faq.whatsapp.com/general/security-and-privacy/answering-your-questions-about-whatsapps-privacy-policy/?lang=en

[5] Supra Note 4.