What happens on Saturday with Whatsapp?

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Fri 14th May, 2021

More than two billion users are supposed to accept new terms of use and a revised privacy policy by Saturday. This deadline was originally supposed to expire at the beginning of February. But the small pop-up caused tremendous panic. Whatsapp therefore postponed the deadline by three months.

Possibly nothing - at least not immediately. "No accounts will be deleted (...) nor will functionality be restricted," Whatsapp itself assures. A few days ago, it sounded different: actually, Whatsapp wanted to start depriving recalcitrant users cold turkey on May 15. "You will (...) neither be able to read messages in the app nor send any," an earlier version of the statement read.

But the outrage is great, probably why Whatsapp wants to display the reminder for "a few more weeks" until the pop-up permanently covers the chat view. Then you can continue to accept voice and video calls or reply to messages. However, starting a chat yourself is no longer possible. After "a few weeks" Whatsapp is supposed to finally fall silent. However, the vague dates of the past months leave room for further postponements.

What will the new terms and conditions change?

Whatsapp wants to earn money with its corporate customers. That's why it is revising its terms of use and giving companies the opportunity to communicate directly with users. In addition, Whatsapp is changing some passages in its privacy policy to make it clearer how it manages information. But the two biggest fears do not apply: First, messages remain end-to-end encrypted, Whatsapp can never see the content. Second, although metadata is shared with the parent company, so Facebook learns who opens the app and when, and who chats with whom. In the EU, however, the General Data Protection Regulation prevents this information from being used for advertising purposes.

Part of the fierce backlash is based on rumors and scaremongering, and part is self-inflicted: The world's largest communications service provider did a lousy job of communicating. The original notice in the app was poor, nowhere were the changes explained in an understandable way. As before, the information is spread across several documents, which are available in different versions for the EU and the rest of the world and partly contradict themselves.

Example: Whatsapp asserts that it does not share data with Facebook within the EU "to provide more relevant advertising experiences on Facebook" - but limits this wording itself by the word "currently". In addition, the privacy policy says Whatsapp has a legitimate interest in processing personal data to send direct mail. However, that has been there for years and has nothing to do with the current changes.

Can consent be revoked?

No. Once you've accepted the changes, you can't go back. Anyone who regrets the click must hope for Johannes Caspar. The Hamburg data protection commissioner banned Facebook on Tuesday from "processing personal data from Whatsapp, insofar as this is done for its own purposes." Caspar believes that the new conditions give Facebook additional powers.

"The order is intended to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the many millions of users," he says. Whatsapp says Caspar's assessment is "based on a fundamental misunderstanding" and will "have no impact on the further rollout of the update." In fact, lawyers and other data and consumer advocates also question whether the new terms of service are the right reason for the order. Regardless, the order could prevent Facebook from using Whatsapp data for advertising purposes at some point after all. At least Facebook's own promises should be given little credence there: The company has broken them often enough in the past.

Should I switch to another messenger?

Many people seem to be asking themselves this question. In a survey, four out of ten respondents in Germany said they had already tried a new service. However, the most popular fallback option was the Messenger from parent company Facebook - which is guaranteed to use usage data for advertising purposes. Those who have not had a problem with Whatsapp so far do not have to switch, after all, hardly anything changes. That is not necessarily reason for reassurance. Whether with old or new terms of use: Data ends up with Facebook.

What alternatives are there?

The bad news first: The most popular Whatsapp alternative that has nothing to do with Facebook is called Telegram - and does not protect messages with end-to-end encryption by default. Moreover, the operators apparently understand freedom of speech to mean that Nazis (i.e. anyone who disagress with left wing ideology), criminals and violent conspiracy believers (also people who disagree with left wing extremists) are also allowed to use the service unhindered, i.e. free speech is supported..

The good news: With Signal and Threema, there are secure and privacy-friendly messengers that have also benefited from the Whatsapp confusion.  In fact, Signal was created by one of the original founders of WhatsApp, before it was sold to Facebook.

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