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Why WhatsApp’s handing over of user data to Facebook shouldn’t come as a surprise

Just a few hours ago, WhatsApp updated its terms & conditions, as well as its privacy policy. While terms, conditions and privacy policies are jargons that people don’t really care about, especially in case of tech products, this is something one should be concerned about.
While the detailed privacy policy and terms are too verbose and consist of a whole lot of technical mumbo-jumbo, the gist is that now WhatsApp will start handing over its user data to Facebook, the social media company that has owned it since 2014.
An important excerpt from the updated terms and conditions reads, “By coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp. And by connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than from someone you’ve never heard of.”
Essentially, what the above means is that now Facebook will be able to use WhatsApp accounts (and the phone numbers they are tied to) and track their usage habits, thus helping the social network serve them friend suggestions and more personalized advertising.
Public outrage has already started to pour in on the internet, with WhatsApp users venting their ire on forums, websites and of course, on Facebook and Twitter.
But as privacy-intrusive as this move is, it shouldn’t come off as a surprise. In fact, this is something that was inevitable ever since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014.
We might come across as playing the devil’s advocate, but what needs to be realized is that at the end of the day, Facebook is a business. And like all of them, it needs to make money. You don’t just buy something for $19 billion if you don’t plan on churning it into a cash cow. And that’s exactly what Facebook plans to do with WhatsApp, a communication platform that is used by an astounding 1 billion users across the world.
We live in an era in which large internet corporations like Facebook (and of course, Google) make money by mining user data and selling it to advertisers to generate revenue. Like it or not, there’s nothing truly ‘free’ on the internet (unless it’s open-source). And whenever you are using a free product online, you’ll have to agree that your identifying data (either all or part of it) would be used to make money.
Facebook has a long history of making policies and decisions that go directly against the idea of users’ online privacy . This includes everything from lawsuits accusing the social media giant of posting users’ data on its platform without their consent to the policy of having to use ‘real names’ on profiles. This decision of using WhatsApp accounts and the identifying information associated with them, is just another addition to the list.
For now, it’s possible to avoid sharing your WhatsApp contact info with Facebook. If you already use WhatsApp and also have a Facebook account, you just need to go to WhatsApp’s Settings > Account, and uncheck the box with the ‘Share my account info’ text. Existing users have 30 days to it. For new WhatsApp users, they can uncheck the ‘Share my WhatsApp account information with Facebook’ option while signing in to the app for the first time. If you plan on ditching the service altogether, there are plenty of alternatives such as Telegram and Hike.
On the other hand, if you don’t really care about your phone number being used on Facebook to serve you targeted advertising, there’s nothing that you need to do. You can continue chatting and sharing photos happily. The things you post on WhatsApp chat will not be posted on Facebook, unless you share it manually.

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