WhatsApp delays new privacy policy as Facebook-fearing users flee

WhatsApp is pushing back its controversial privacy policy change, delaying the date by which users must agree to the new terms over what the Facebook-owned messaging platform described as "misinformation" about how it shares data. Concerns began earlier in January, after an upcoming policy update seemingly required WhatsApp users consent to some of their data being passed over to Facebook.

The deadline, the policy update set out, would be February 8, 2021. After that point, users of WhatsApp would have to either agree to the new rules – including those around sharing – or find a different messaging service to use.

For many, the answer was to do just that. Telegram and Signal have both reported a huge influx of new signups, believed to be disgruntled WhatsApp users looking elsewhere for their cross-platform messaging hit. WhatsApp tried to clarify the exact details of the policy and staunch the flow earlier this week, arguing that users were confused as to just what was being requested. Now, though, it's going one step further.

"We're now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms," WhatsApp confirmed today. "No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We're also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We'll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15."

The reality is that WhatsApp is asking for new permissions, but they may not affect how you actually use the messaging platform. Personal messages and calls are not changing, and will remain end-to-end encrypted, the company says. Instead, "the changes are related to business messaging, which is entirely optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data."

In short, if you communicate with businesses through WhatsApp, or shop with companies through it, then the new privacy policy will impact you. Those who do not, however, will not see any meaningful change to their privacy experience, at least as WhatsApp explains it.

"While not everyone shops with a business on WhatsApp today," the company acknowledged, "we think that more people will choose to do so in the future and it's important people are aware of these services. This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook."

It's unclear how much of a difference this delay will make, given many have already begun transitioning away to different services. Signal, for example, has had "millions" of new users register, prompting downtime today for the company's platform.