WhatsApp’s privacy policy war is over, and WhatsApp lost

A couple of weeks ago, news broke that WhatsApp would start encouraging users to agree to its problematic new privacy policy. And by “encourage,” we mean that they would start disabling some of the app’s features for users that refused to agree. It was, to put it lightly, a big freakin’ deal in an increasingly ugly saga of WhatsApp transitioning to a less user-focused service. A new report indicates that WhatsApp is backing away from this contentious behavior.

Yesterday WhatsApp representatives told LiveMint that the company would reverse its stance, and will not limit features for users who decline to agree to its new policy. That’s in direct response to a letter from members of the Indian government’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. WhatsApp’s statement wasn’t a total reversal, however: it said “We will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks” (emphasis ours).

This is another entry in a long-running story. In January of this year, WhatsApp introduced a new data sharing policy that allowed more data to be sent to its parent company, Facebook. Since one of WhatsApp’s most notable features is its end-to-end encrypted messaging system, security-minded users were, well, pissed. After initially setting a May 15th deadline for users to accept the new policy and threatening to disable the accounts of those who refused it, WhatsApp reversed its stance, instead saying that it would start to disable some account features for users who declined. Now that seems to have been walked back as well.

WhatsApp maintains that the changes in the policy only apply to messages sent from users to companies, not user-to-user messages. But with users increasingly and justifiably concerned about security, and with WhatsApp’s inexorable connection to frequently problematic Facebook, it’s easy to see why the messaging platform that’s become ubiquitous in so many places has upset so many people.

Instead, and for the time being, WhatsApp will “continue to remind users about the update as well as when people choose to use relevant optional features, such as communicating with a business that is receiving support from Facebook.”

Theoretically, if you restrict your usage of WhatsApp to sending messages to other individual users, the changes in the data policy won’t affect you at all. But considering recent issues with both Facebook and WhatsApp, it’s easy to see why some users would be hesitant to agree to, well, anything. For the time being, at least that hesitancy won’t force them into any new behavior.

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