WhatsApp squeeze — here's what happens if you don't accept new privacy policy

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After months of controversy and a three-month delay, WhatsApp’s new privacy policy kicks in today. The new terms gives the messaging app permission to share more data with parent company Facebook without the option to opt-out, with the aim of helping businesses using the platform.

Accept the terms and things continue as usual, albeit with a bit less privacy. Reject the policy, and you’re no longer welcome. But what happens if you just ignore them, neither accepting or rejecting them? Is that a loophole that’ll let you keep using WhatsApp without undermining your privacy?

In the short term, yes, but it’s only a brief stay of execution. In a new blog post, WhatsApp answers this burning question, and it appears that the app will pester more and more until it just gives up on you, blocking contact from friends and family until you accept.

While assuring users that nobody will lose functionality on the day itself, WhatsApp makes it clear that this leniency won’t last for long. At first, this will just come with more frequent pestering to accept the new terms, but if they’re ignored for “a period of several weeks” the reminder will become “persistent” and you’ll “encounter limited functionality.”

Initially, the app will block your chat list, but still let you answer incoming calls, both voice and video. Notifications will display, and you’ll still be able to read messages this way. 

If users don’t accept the terms after a few weeks of this, they “won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications, and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls.” 

Note that this isn’t the same as having your WhatsApp presence deleted, although the company does point to its own separate rules about inactivity which states that accounts are “generally deleted” after 120 days without connectivity. If users can’t access the app, it’s hard to see how the inactivity rule won’t kick in eventually, even if it’s not a direct consequence of the new terms.

It’s a pretty blunt instrument attempting to force users into accepting the new terms, but WhatsApp is clearly confident that it can get its way on this one. That’s the kind of confidence that having some 2 billion active users worldwide will give you.

Still, it’s a great opportunity for its rivals to close the gap, and both Signal and Telegram have reportedly enjoyed an uptick in members as a result of the fallout. Yesterday, Telegram was pushing the point hard as deadline day approached. 

It’s a message that has long been echoed by WhatsApp co-founder and member of the Signal Foundation, Brian Acton, who has been urging people to cut their ties with Facebook since 2018. Acton left Facebook in 2017, three years after selling WhatsApp for $16 billion and hasn’t been shy about sharing his views on the app since. “I sold my users' privacy to a larger benefit," he told Forbes the following year. "I made a choice and a compromise, and I live with that every day." 

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.