WhatsApp clarifies Facebook data sharing, conflicts with own policy

2021 isn't starting out well for Facebook but, then again, 2020 didn't end well for it either. Now it's dragging one of its remaining "clean" properties down with it, thanks to a controversial change in WhatsApp's privacy policies. The popular instant messaging platform, contrary to its promise back when it was acquired by Facebook, is mandating some data sharing with its parent company. Responding to both backlash and rumors, WhatsApp is publishing a simplified version of what it won't be sharing with Facebook but still leaves plenty of questions and doubts unanswered.

That WhatsApp will be sharing data with Facebook isn't much of a shocker as it does already share some data with third-party companies, including Facebook companies. What has users up in arms and leaving the service en masse is that WhatsApp is making it mandatory to even use the service. Since that announced change, WhatsApp has been trying to do damage control but its latest attempt might not exactly be working as intended.

The company just posted an FAQ that details what it isn't sharing with Facebook, which boils down to the things that it can't even see or hear itself. It says it can't see private messages or hear calls and can't see shared location so neither will Facebook be able to get that data. It also assures that it won't be sharing contacts in your address book with Facebook and that you can still have ephemeral messages as normal.

Unfortunately, the clarified version of WhatsApp's new privacy policy doesn't exactly explain what data it does share with Facebook, leaving users to fill in the blanks. That still covers quite a large swathe of data, more than what WhatsApp users might be comfortable sharing with Facebook.

Worse, XDA points out that this FAQ contradicts WhatsApp's own privacy policy, or at least leaves some things very open to interpretation. The FAQ, for example, says it doesn't see users' share location and neither does it share that with Facebook but the somewhat vague legalese in the Policy document says that it can do both. Unfortunately, when things get messy, it will be the Privacy Policy, not an informal FAQ, that will hold more weight in courts.