Since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014, users wondered and worried about the amount of data that would flow between the two platforms. Many of them have had a rude awakening this week, as a new in-app notification raises awareness of a step WhatsApp actually took to share more with Facebook in 2016.
None of this has at any time affected WhatsApp selection function: end-to-end encryption. Messages, photos, and other content that you send and receive on WhatsApp can only be viewed on your smartphone and on the devices of the people you choose to communicate with. WhatsApp and Facebook itself cannot access your communications. In fact, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to expansion end-to-end encryption offers as part of the linking of the company’s various communication platforms. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t yet a wealth of other data that WhatsApp can collect and share on how you use the app. The company said it collects information about users “to operate, provide, improve, understand, personalize, support and market our services.”
In practice, this means that WhatsApp shares a lot of information with Facebook, including account information such as your phone number, logs on how long and how often you use WhatsApp, information about how you interact. with other users, device IDs and other device details like IP address, operating system, browser details, battery status information, version of application, mobile network, language and time zone. Transaction and payment data, cookies and location information are also all fair game to share with Facebook based on the permissions you give WhatsApp in the first place.
“WhatsApp is great for protecting the privacy of the content of your message,” says Matthew Green, cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University. “But it’s as if the privacy of everything you do is up for grabs.”