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WhatsApp is forcing you to share data with Facebook — what you need to know

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(Image credit: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

WhatsApp has revealed that it'll be making some changes to its privacy policy, most notably that data will now be shared with its parent company Facebook starting on February 8. Unlike previous bouts of data-sharing with Facebook, users will not be able to opt-out, making the change mandatory for anyone who wants to continue using the service. 

The new privacy policy was spotted by XDA-Developers. It affects how WhatsApp processes data, how businesses can use data gathered by Facebook, and how this new data integration will work with future products. 

Sharing data with Facebook is not new, however. Since 2016 WhatsApp had been allowing cross-communication with Facebook, but gave users the option to opt out. It came at odds with a statement the WhatsApp made in 2014 after the acquisition by Facebook in which it made a commitment to user privacy  

The opt-out feature is no longer available for WhatsApp users outside the European Union, and it is not clear when it was removed.

Facebook contends that it will continue to maintain privacy protections in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) across all of its products. 

The bulk of the new privacy policy doesn't differ much from changes made last July. The only key difference is that users have to agree to share your data with Facebook or completely stop using WhatsApp. That's a task that is easier said than done if everyone you know also uses WhatsApp.

The information collected is set to be shared with "other Facebook companies" and includes things like account information, your phone number, how you interact with other users, your IP address, and other information WhatsApp outlines in the "Information we Collect" section of its privacy policy.

Rather importantly, since WhatsApp is encrypted by default, Facebook won't be able to see the contents of your messages. That said, information on who you message, and how often you do it, is fair game.

But Facebook collects all this information to help adjust how its services are run. According to the company, that includes making improvements to its infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how people actually use its services, fighting crime and spam, as well as improving the user experience.

That last one is key, as Facebook's idea of "improving the user experience" means personalization. In other words, the goal is to use algorithms to alter your experience with Facebook and point you towards things that will keep you there for longer.

This also includes personalized advertising, seeing as how ads make up the overwhelming majority of Facebook's revenue. In fact almost 99% of its  global revenue came from advertising in Q3 2020. Although, WhatsApp won't be serving up adverts of its own anytime soon. In fact, the privacy policy still expressly forbids third-party banner ads from appearing.

On a more positive note, data sharing does let you connect and use other Facebook services with your WhatsApp account. Services like Facebook Pay, or the Facebook Portal smart display.

The new privacy policy is available on WhatsApp’s website for you to browse at your leisure. If you don’t like what you see, make sure to check out the best chat apps and the best encrypted messaging apps to see what other options you have. Just remember to bring friends and family on board, because ditching WhatsApp is meaningless if nobody joins you. You have a little over a month to persuade them.