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WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger's new Apple privacy labels are frightening

WhatsApp
(Image credit: Allie Zru)

WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger collect a huge amount of user data compared to other top messaging apps, according to new privacy labels Apple rolled out this year.

A report by Forbes (via 9to5Mac) found that Apple's App Store privacy labels, which flag the specific nature of the user data that apps collect, reveal WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger gather significantly more kinds of data than messaging app alternatives iMessage or Signal.

The Facebook Messenger app has 65 different privacy labels spanning third-party advertising, analytics, product personalization, app functionality and "other purposes," while WhatsApp has 16 labels. 

Facebook WhatsApp message privacy

(Image credit: Forbes (via 9to5Mac))

Meanwhile, Apple's own iMessage has three labels and encrypted messaging service Signal has none.

Some of this may sound familiar to Android users, who can view the number of permissions each Android app takes for itself by clicking "View Details" under the Permissions heading at the bottom of an app's Google Play page. But Apple's new labels are easier to read and more detailed.

Facebook oversees both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, meaning the company is collecting the most data of all the best chat apps used in Forbes's report. Of course if you know how to use WhatsApp or how to stop Facebook from sharing your data, you can exercise some control over how both apps manage your information. But that could change soon.

Starting Feb. 8 WhatsApp will have no choice about what kind of data will be shared with its parent company, according to a privacy policy update. WhatsApp users will no longer be able to opt-out of this data collection, making the change mandatory for anyone who wants to continue using WhatsApp messaging, call and video chat services.

Since 2016, WhatsApp had enabled cross-communication with Facebook, but gave users the option to forgo data sharing. Now it's non-optional. Although WhatsApp messages are encrypted by default, information on who you message, and how often you do it, is fair game for Facebook.

Amid an ongoing ad war with Apple over user data, Facebook published an FAQ that attempts to justify WhatsApp user data collection. It doesn't explain why the company's chat apps earned more privacy labels compared to competing programs, though.

The new WhatsApp privacy policy is available on WhatsApp’s website. If you don’t like what you see, or this Forbes report leaves you uneasy, make sure to check out the best chat apps and the best encrypted messaging apps for alternatives.