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WhatsApp delays privacy update following concerns over Facebook data sharing

Critics have advised users to switch to other encrypted apps like Signal and Telegram.

WhatsApp is pushing back an update to its privacy policy following significant backlash and confusion.
Angela Lang/CNET

WhatsApp on Friday said it was postponing an update to its privacy policy following concerns and calls from users to switch to other encrypted apps like Signal and Telegram. The Facebook-owned app is now giving users until May 15 to review and accept its new policy, which relates to how businesses access user information

"No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8," WhatsApp said in a blog post. "We're also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp."

Earlier this week, WhatsApp published an FAQ clarifying the terms of its updated privacy policy and responding to concerns that it shares personal information with parent company Facebook. The firm noted the update doesn't affect the privacy of messages with friends and family, and instead relates to messaging businesses through the platform. WhatsApp also said the update "provides further transparency about how we collect and use data."

Privacy advocates (as well as Elon Musk) have called for WhatsApp's users to ditch the Facebook-owned messaging app and instead opt for encrypted platforms like Signal. WhatsApp says personal messages are also protected by end-to-end encryption, but it has for years openly collected certain user data to share with Facebook. Telegram, another secure messaging app, on Tuesday said it had surpassed 500 million active users, and gained more than 25 million new global users in just 72 hours.

WhatsApp says neither it nor Facebook can see private messages. In addition, the company says it doesn't keep logs of who users message or call, can't see shared location and doesn't share contacts with Facebook.

Under WhatsApp's privacy policy, businesses have the option to use "secure hosting services from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers, answer questions, and send helpful information like purchase receipts," WhatsApp says. If you communicate with a business, it can see what you're saying and then use that information for marketing, which could include advertising on Facebook. WhatsApp says it clearly labels conversations with businesses that use Facebook's hosting services. 

Also, interacting with Facebook's Shops commerce feature via WhatsApp allows a person's shopping activity to be used to show related ads on Facebook and Instagram. WhatsApp says this feature is optional and that when you use it, "we will tell you in the app how your data is being shared with Facebook." Additionally, clicking on a Facebook ad with the option to message a business through WhatsApp could allow Facebook to then show more related ads.