Social media giant Facebook purchased the popular texting app WhatsApp in 2014, and in 2016 WhatsApp announced they would be sharing user information with Facebook — leading some users to worry that personal information contained with WhatsApp would be spilled to the social media-using public. But while the app will share some user data with Facebook to improve targeted advertising and other business interfaces, WhatsApp says information such as messages, pictures and other personal data will not be shared onto other platforms. Furthermore, users can theoretically opt out of sharing non-personal data with Facebook.
The WhatsApp web site rather passive-aggressively instructs users how to opt out:
If you are an existing user, you can choose not to share your account information with Facebook to improve your Facebook ads and products experiences.
The site offers instructions on two methods for opting out of data sharing. One way to prevent WhatsApp from sharing customer information with Facebook is to tap the word “Read” when the update is offered, then uncheck the following box:
If you have agreed to the update, you have another 30 days to change your account settings so that your information is not shared by again unchecking the box:
WhatsApp promises that none of their users’ “messages, photos, and account information” will be shared on Facebook “or any of our other family of apps for others to see,” nor will anything posted on Facebook be shared on WhatsApp:
The Facebook family of companies will still receive and use this information for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how our services or theirs are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse, or infringement activities.
The ten Facebook-owned companies that will share the information include Facebook Payments; Atlas; Instagram; Occulus; Onavo; Parse; Moves; LiveRail; Masquerade; and now, of course, WhatsApp. According to a WhatsApp blog post dated 25 August 2016:
We’re also updating these documents to make clear that we’ve rolled out end-to-end encryption. When you and the people you message are using the latest version of WhatsApp, your messages are encrypted by default, which means you’re the only people who can read them. Even as we coordinate more with Facebook in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else. We won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and we still won’t sell, share, or give your phone number to advertisers.
But by coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp. And by connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of. You can learn more, including how to control the use of your data, here.
If WhatsApp’s promises that your personal information will not be shared on Facebook aren’t enough, Forbeslists the messaging app Signal to be a favorite alternative choice. Its developer, Open Whisper Systems, boasts an endorsement by none other than NSA document leaker Edward Snowden:
Google just started using the Signal protocols for its Allo chat app too, indicating Signal is now the crypto du jour amongst major tech companies. And, as it’s not beholden to any private company or public body, Signal won’t be sharing your metadata with anyone.