Over the past week, nearly 2 billion people worldwide using WhatsApp, Facebook’s instant messaging service, have been greeted with a giant pop-up when they launched the app.
Unless people agree to these new terms, they will be locked out of WhatsApp on February 8th.
Online, the reaction has been swift. “Used Signal” he tweeted Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, to his 42 million followers, referring to WhatsApp’s open source alternative popular among people who treat sensitive information as journalists and activists. “Usu [Signal] every day and I’m not even dead ” he tweeted American whistleblower Edward Snowden. In Turkey, the media office of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s defense ministry have announced that they were down WhatsApp after which the policy changed, and he opened a probe into the movement.
Signal has become the first free app on both Google and Apple’s app store in most countries of the world. More than 8,800,000 people downloaded Signal on iPhones and Android phones in the week of January 4, compared to just 246,000 people the week before, according to data analysis firm Sensor Tower. Telegram, another WhatsApp alternative, he said Tuesday that more than 25 million people have joined in the last 72 hours.
“I was concerned about my privacy,” J. Paul, a Mumbai marketing professional who only wanted to be identified by the initials of his name, told BuzzFeed News. “Facebook monetizes its products in ways that are invasive for users.”
In addition to Facebook itself, WhatsApp is Facebook’s largest and most popular service. In markets like Brazil and India, the app is the by default communication for hundreds of millions of people. But so far, Facebook, which paid $ 22 billion to buy it in 2014, has kept it largely independent and has not tried to make money. Now, that changes.
“We remain committed to the privacy and security of people’s private messages,” a WhatsApp spokesman told BuzzFeed News, offering a link to a page the company posted earlier this week explaining the new policy. “The best way to support end-to-end cryptography in the long run is to have a business model that protects people’s private communication.”
The page says that WhatsApp thinks that messaging with businesses is different from messaging with friends and family, and shares data that the company might share with Facebook in the future.
“If you’ve spent $ 22 billion buying something, sooner or later, shareholders want you to monetize that asset,” Mishi Choudhary, a New York-based technology lawyer and online civil rights activist, told BuzzFeed News.
WhatsApp, started by two former Yahoo employees, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, cost people a dollar a year. After Facebook made the app free to use, growth exploded. For the first few years after purchasing the app in 2014, Facebook has largely left WhatsApp alone. But in 2018, it launched WhatsApp Business, which allows businesses to use WhatsApp to communicate with customers. For the first time, Facebook wanted WhatsApp to start generating revenue.
Over the past year, WhatsApp has added more business features, such as flight tickets and purchase receipts, catalogs, and payments. WhatsApp said there are more than 50 million businesses on the platform, and more than 175 million people send a business in the app every day.
“I don’t trust Facebook,” Paul said. He recently deactivated his Facebook account, although he still uses Instagram and WhatsApp. “I’m forced to be on this one, but I don’t trust it,” he said.
Confidence in WhatsApp has plummeted since Facebook bought it. Koum defended selling the app to Facebook in 2014 blog post, stating that the company was not interested in people’s personal data. “If the partnership with Facebook meant we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it,” he wrote. Two years later, however, WhatsApp announced that he will start sharing some data, including phone numbers and the last time people used the service with Facebook – a move for which the European Union fine is 110 million euros.
In response, Facebook casts an offensive spell. In India, which is the company’s largest marketplace with more than 400 million users, the company has slammed the front pages of major national newspapers with full-page ads clarifying that it could not view private messages. of people not even listening to their calls. “Respect for your privacy is encoded in our DNA,” the WhatsApp announcement said, echoing a line from Koum’s blog in 2014.
“It is important for us to be clear that this update describes business communication and does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook,” he wrote. “It doesn’t impact how people communicate privately with friends or family wherever they are in the world.”
Cathcart did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Despite the outcry, abandoning WhatsApp in countries like India could be tough. Paul, the Mumbai marketing professional, said he would continue to use the app until he encouraged everyone he knows to switch to Signal.
“It’s not an easy sale,” he said, “because of the WhatsApp convention.”