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Remember the good old days when big social media giants like Facebook and Twitter actually pretended that they cared about user privacy and protecting your sensitive personal data from prying eyes? Those days are apparently over, as companies like Facebook constantly update, change and tweak their Terms of Service in order to make it as easy as possible to share data amongst various platforms.
Case in point: Facebook-owned WhatsApp – a company once lauded for its rigorous approach to data privacy – is now telling users that all of their private data (including phone numbers, location data, and IP addresses) will be shared with Facebook as of February 8. And, even worse, it’s telling users that there is no way to opt out of this: either share your data with Facebook or you’ll no longer be able to use WhatsApp to send encrypted messages to your friends.
Possible options to avoid sharing data with Facebook
Not surprisingly, this brazen attempt by Facebook to get its hands on all the user data it can has provoked a backlash in the online social media world. WhatsApp users are saying that they will migrate to other platforms such as Signal and Telegram. Social media celebrities like Elon Musk are goading them on, encouraging them to do so. In fact, Musk even tweeted about this, saying simply, “Use Signal.” And the two disgruntled co-founders of WhatsApp (now both gone from the company) are even getting into the act, asking users to “Delete Facebook.”
This all comes, of course, within a broader social media context in which social media users appear to be migrating to other alternative platforms en masse. Users disenchanted with Twitter’s extreme censorship, for example, are moving to Parler and Gab. Video creators tired of YouTube’s shenanigans are testing out DLive and BitChute. And so it makes sense that alternative messaging platforms like Signal and Telegram are getting quite a bit of buzz these days.
Are social media users overreacting?
WhatsApp, for its part, says that there is no vast conspiracy to collect user data. According to company representatives, all of this is simply being done to make it easier for businesses to store WhatsApp chats with existing Facebook infrastructure. A business with a presence on Facebook, for example, might be using WhatsApp for customer service initiatives, and so it needs a way for these two platforms to talk to each other. Or it might be using WhatsApp to offer 1-on-1 VIP consultations to top clients, and it needs some way for WhatsApp to integrate this data with Facebook customer service and marketing initiatives. And, says WhatsApp, this new expansive data-sharing initiative will only impact U.S. users – it will have no impact on EU or U.K. customers.
Which makes sense, since the EU and UK have much greater protections for customer privacy, thanks to the GDPR. The U.S., while stepping up its efforts to protect customers when it comes to data privacy, has notably trailed behind Europe in coming up with ironclad protections. So it may be a case that the big social media companies have found a loophole in the U.S. social media world and are exploiting it while they can. That might be a reason why WhatsApp essentially gave users a deadline of February 8 to agree to the changes – if the company waits any longer, the window of opportunity for collecting user data might close indefinitely.
What to expect next
This is certainly a development worth watching. In the past, we’ve warned about social media platforms collaborating and coordinating their efforts to share user data. And we’ve warned about companies like Google and Facebook embarking on massive PR initiatives to make it sound as though that they really care about you and your data. Here, the big social media giants are basically telling you: “All your data is ours, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”