Will WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy Demands Drive Users Away?

The popular messaging app will be effectively useless if you don't accept the new privacy policy by May 15th.
Conor Cawley

WhatsApp isn't messing around with its new privacy policy, as one report discovered that the company will require users to accept it by May 15th. And if they don't, the app will be almost entirely useless.

Online privacy has become an increasingly important topic in the tech world. Between frequent security breaches and shady data mining practices, the everyday user is constantly inundated with privacy concerns, no matter where they are on the web.

Now, with Facebook-owned WhatsApp forcing a new privacy policy down everyone's throat under penalty of an ineffective app, the question remains: Will these new changes drive users away?

WhatsApp Privacy Policy

Last month, WhatsApp users were greeted with an in-app alert, stating that they would have to accept the terms of a new privacy policy by February 8th if they wanted to keep using the app.

However, some serious backlash has forced the company to temporarily reconsider. Between petitions, think-pieces, and eccentric entrepreneurs speaking out against the new update, WhatsApp decided to push the deadline back to May 15th.

The updated privacy policy is largely aimed at improving services based on its parent company's foray into the ecommerce space. More specifically, the new terms will allow WhatsApp and Facebook to effectively share payment and transaction data in hopes of improving targeted ads across both platforms.

This move is clearly rubbing some people the wrong way, but what exactly happens if you don't agree to the new WhatsApp privacy policy?

What happens if you don't agree to the new privacy policy?

The details of what happens to users that don't agree to the new WhatsApp privacy policy were murky until this weekend, when TechCrunch acquired an email exchange between WhatsApp and one of its merchant partners. The email stated exactly what happens to users that don't comply by the May 15 deadline.

“For a short time, these users will be able to receive calls and notifications, but will not be able to read or send messages from the app.”

The note specified that the “short time” in question will last a few weeks, after which the users will be designated as “inactive users.” According to the WhatsApp FAQ page, inactive users are “generally deleted after 120 days of inactivity.”

This all seems dramatic enough that it could seriously ruffle some feathers, but will it be enough to persuade the app's 2 billion worldwide users to jump ship?

How do people feel about online privacy?

To say the world is frustrated with tech companies and their inability to get the whole privacy thing right would be an understatement. WhatsApp and Facebook are just two in a long line of organizations that have lost the public's trust as far as keeping data safe from themselves and nefarious actors.

In fact, according to research from Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans don't trust social media sites to protect their data online.

This lack of trust has manifested in some interesting ways, particularly in recent months. For one, privacy-centric messaging apps, like Telegram and Signal, have become exceedingly popular, with both boasting millions of new users. Additionally, generally secure apps like DuckDuckGo are also having a moment, with the privacy-focused search engine hitting 100 million daily searches just a month ago. Furthermore, tools like password managers and VPNs continue to be quite popular, showcasing the increasing focus on privacy throughout the tech world.

Suffice it to say, WhatsApp could very easily see an exodus of users once these measures are firmly planted this spring. Still, the online world is already riddled with privacy loopholes and security snafus. And while the few that take security seriously may move on from the popular messaging app, the complacent masses — whose data is already flowing freely throughout the worldwide web — will likely take the apathetic path and just agree.

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Conor is the Senior Writer for Tech.co. For the last five years, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His extensive background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host tech-centric events like Startup Night at SXSW and the Timmy Awards for Tech in Motion. You can email Conor at conor@tech.co.

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