Over the past week, nearly 2 billion people around the world who use WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging service, were greeted by a giant pop-up when the app launched.
Unless people agree to these new terms, they will be banned from WhatsApp on February 8.
Online, the response has been swift. “Use the signal”, tweeted Tesla CEO Elon Musk to his 42 million subscribers, referring to the open source WhatsApp alternative popular with people who deal with sensitive information like journalists and activists. “I use [Signal] every day and I’m not dead yet ” tweeted American whistleblower Edward Snowden. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s media office and the country’s defense ministry have announced that they are abandon whatsapp after the policy changes, and opened a probe into the movement.
Signal has become the best free app on Google and Apple app stores in most countries of the world. More than 8,800,000 people downloaded Signal to iPhones and Android phones in the week of Jan. 4, up from just 246,000 people the week before, according to data analytics company Sensor Tower. Telegram, another alternative to WhatsApp, mentionned Tuesday that more than 25 million people had joined in the past 72 hours.
“I was concerned about my privacy,” J. Paul, a Mumbai marketer who only wanted to be identified by the initial of his first name, told BuzzFeed News. “Facebook monetizes its products invasively for users.”
Besides Facebook itself, WhatsApp is Facebook’s largest and most popular service. In markets like Brazil and India, the application is the default way of communication for hundreds of millions of people. But so far Facebook, which paid $ 22 billion to acquire it in 2014, has kept it largely independent and hasn’t tried to make money with it. Now that is changing.
“We remain committed to the privacy and security of people’s private messages,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, and proposed a link on a page the company posted earlier this week explaining the new policy. “The best way to maintain end-to-end encryption over the long term is to have a business model that protects people’s private communication.”
The page says WhatsApp believes messaging with businesses is different from messaging with friends and family, and breaks down what data the business might share with Facebook in the future.
“If you’ve spent $ 22 billion to acquire something, sooner or later shareholders want you to monetize that asset,” New technology lawyer and online civil liberties activist Mishi Choudhary told BuzzFeed News. York.
WhatsApp, started by two former Yahoo employees Jan Koum and Brian Acton, originally charged people a dollar a year. After Facebook made the app free, the growth exploded. For the first few years after buying the app in 2014, Facebook largely left WhatsApp alone. But in 2018, he launched WhatsApp Business, which allows businesses to use WhatsApp to communicate with customers. For the first time, Facebook wanted WhatsApp to start generating revenue.
Over the past year, WhatsApp has added more business-oriented features like airline tickets and purchase receipts, catalogs, and Payments. WhatsApp said there are over 50 million businesses on the platform, and over 175 million people message a business on the app every day.
“I don’t trust Facebook,” Paul said. He recently deactivated his Facebook account, although he still uses Instagram and WhatsApp. “I have to be there, but I don’t trust him,” he said.
Trust in WhatsApp has eroded since Facebook bought it. Koum defended the sale of the app to Facebook in 2014 blog post, stating that the company was not interested in people’s personal data. “If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it,” he wrote. Two years later, however, WhatsApp ad that it would start sharing certain data, including phone numbers and the last time people used the service with Facebook – a move for which the European Union fined there 110 million euros.
In response, Facebook is launching a charm offensive. In India, which is the company’s largest market with more than 400 million users, the company splashed the front pages of major national newspapers with full-page ads stating that it couldn’t see private messages. people or listen to their calls. “Respect for your privacy is encoded in our DNA,” said the WhatsApp announcement, echoing a line from Koum’s blog in 2014.
“It is important for us to be clear that this update describes corporate communication and does not change WhatsApp’s data sharing practices with Facebook,” he wrote. “It has no impact on the way people communicate privately with their friends or family, wherever they are in the world.”
Cathcart did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Despite the outcry, ditching WhatsApp in countries like India could be difficult. Paul, the Mumbai marketer, said he would continue to use the app until he urged everyone he knows to switch to Signal.
“It’s not an easy sale,” he said, “because of the convenience of WhatsApp.”