UK WhatsApp users are not being forced to share their data with Facebook - the rumours debunked

Friday, 8th January 2021, 11:39 am
Updated Friday, 8th January 2021, 12:04 pm

Claims that a new WhatsApp update requires users to share their data with Facebook if they wish to continue using the messaging service have been circulating online and published by many UK news outlets.

However, it appears that the claims are not true. While a new update will require some users to agree to sharing their data with Facebook, users in the UK (and other regions in Europe) will not be affected.

‘No changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices’

A spokesperson for WhatsApp said: “There are no changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices in the European region (including UK) arising from the updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

“For the avoidance of any doubt, it is still the case that WhatsApp does not share European region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or advertisements.”

Where did the rumour come from?

The confusion seems to have stemmed from the fact that locations around the world are actually serviced by two separate branches of WhatsApp, and those locations are subject to different laws.

WhatsApp Ireland Limited covers countries and territories within the European region, including countries in the European Union. The UK is listed under the areas serviced by this branch of WhatsApp.

You can see the full list of countries and territories covered by WhatsApp Ireland Limited here.

For users who don’t live in one of the countries or territories listed, WhatsApp services are provided by WhatsApp LLC, not WhatsApp Ireland Limited.

WhatsApp LLC recently updated its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, informing users that WhatsApp would be sharing their data with Facebook, which bought WhatsApp back in 2014.

WhatsApp LLC first began sharing data with Facebook in 2016 by default, but users were given the option to opt out of this data sharing. In the most recent update, data sharing has been made mandatory, with no opt out option available.

The information being shared by WhatsApp LLC includes, but is not limited to:

  • Your account registration information (such as your phone number)
  • Transaction data
  • Service-related information
  • Information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using [WhatsApp] services, mobile device information, your IP address

The WhatsApp LLC Privacy Policy updates state that Facebook “may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customise, support, and market our Services and their offerings, including the Facebook company Products”.

This includes things like personalising adverts and content.

However, this update does not affect WhatsApp users in the UK, or across the rest of the European region.

‘WhatsApp does not share European Region WhatsApp user data with Facebook’

WhatsApp users in the UK are subject to separate privacy policies, which differ from the privacy policies applying to users outside of the European region.

Niahm Sweeny, Director of Policy for WhatsApp, wrote a thread of tweets to clear up the situation.

Sweeny wrote: “It has been incorrectly reported that WhatsApp’s latest Terms of Service and Privacy Policy update requires users in the European Region to agree to the sharing of data with Facebook for ads purposes in order to continue using the service. This is false.

“There are no changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices in Europe arising from this update. It remains the case that WhatsApp does not share European Region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or ads.”

The FAQ page on the WhatsApp website also elaborates: “Today, Facebook does not use your WhatsApp account information to improve your Facebook product experiences or provide you more relevant Facebook ad experiences on Facebook.

“This is a result of discussions with the Irish Data Protection Commission and other Data Protection Authorities in Europe. We're always working on new ways to improve how you experience WhatsApp and the other Facebook Company Products you use.

“Should we choose to share such data with the Facebook Companies for this purpose in the future, we will only do so when we reach an understanding with the Irish Data Protection Commission on a future mechanism to enable such use.”

Did WhatsApp Ireland Limited also have an update?

UK users may have noticed a recent notification when opening WhatsApp about updates to the terms and conditions of the app.

The notification states that the key updates include:

  • WhatsApp’s service and how it processes your data
  • How businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats

WhatsApp users outside the UK, which are serviced by WhatsApp LLC, also received this notification, but it included a third bullet point, which said: “How [WhatsApp] partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the Facebook Company Products.”

The new WhatsApp update will come into effect from 8 February 2021.

Users who have received this notification have the option to select the “not now” option to postpone agreeing to the update, however you will need to accept the new update by 8 February in order to continue using the app.