WhatsApp is rolling out its Controversial Privacy Policy Update again

This will be interesting.

After a wave of controversy with its first attempt, WhatsApp is gradually rolling out its new Privacy Policy update once again, which will see the app share more data with Facebook – though only in relation to business-specific actions within the messaging platform.

WhatsApp originally opted to delay change after strong user resistance, but now, WhatsApp users are being alerted to the coming change once again with these new in-app alerts.

As you may recall, back in January, WhatsApp first initiated the new update via more direct in-app alerts, which sparked a huge backlash among WhatsApp users who were concerned that the change meant that WhatsApp would soon be sharing their personal information with parent company Facebook, including access to their private messages, and that they were essentially being forced to accept the update, or WhatsApp would remove their account.

Which is incorrect, on both counts, but the mere suggestion was enough to drive alternative messaging apps to the top of the download charts – Telegram, for example, added 25 million new users in just three days, while Signal and Viber saw massive surges in interest.

The backlash was significant enough to force Facebook to run full-page newspaper ads to better explain the change, then, as noted, walk it back completely in order to give it more time to communicate the full implications of the update.

But eventually, WhatsApp does need to implement the change to facilitate Facebook’s broader messaging eCommerce plans, like enabling Facebook Pay and cross-app connection. So now, it’s going again.

And while it is taking a much softer approach this time around, the consequences of not accepting the change are fairly steep.

As noted by WhatsApp:

“After a period of several weeks, the [privacy policy update] reminder people receive will eventually become persistent. At that time, you’ll encounter limited functionality on WhatsApp until you accept the updates. This will not happen to all users at the same time.”

Those limitations, which will escalate over time, will include:

  • Inability to access your chat list
  • Removal of the ability to receive incoming calls or notifications
  • Eventually, WhatsApp “will stop sending messages and calls to your phone”

So while WhatsApp has reassured used that it won’t delete anybody’s account for not accepting the new update, the app will effectively be useless until you do. So really, it’s just semantics in this sense.

The rising punishments for non-compliance could spark renewed angst among WhatsApp users, which may see alternative messaging tools once again get a boost. But WhatsApp will be hoping that its sheer scale will be enough to keep most users from bothering – if all your contacts and chats are already in WhatsApp, and enough people can’t be bothered re-starting their networks in a new app, that will mitigate any significant loss of usage.

Which is likely what will happen. While people are concerned about privacy, as we’ve seen time and time again, convenience is generally a much bigger consideration for the broader populace, and if your friends don’t switch, there’s not much point in you switching either.

Which is probably not necessarily a bad thing. As WhatsApp has continually reiterated:

“The policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way.”

The update only relates to communications with selected businesses within the app, which may choose to use the data from those interactions for advertising or other communication purposes. While it will also, as noted, eventually enable WhatsApp to provide more payment options in-stream, while working towards Facebook’s broader messaging integration plan.

In this sense, it’s not an unusual or really even controversial update in the general scheme. But it does, in some way, reduce the over-arching privacy focus of WhatsApp, which, understandably, has many freaked out.

Whether that’s enough to get more people to dump the app entirely, we’ll now wait and see.