What to do when WhatsApp ‘shares’ your number with Facebook

WhatsApp on Thursday announced it would be sharing information such as users’ phone numbers with Facebook. This, the messaging app claimed, was “to coordinate more and improve experiences across our services and those of Facebook and the Facebook family”.

What this essentially means is that WhatsApp would share with Facebook your phone number, some details about your handset and the last time you were “seen”, Whats App among others. What it would mean, according to information available on WhatsApp’s website, is one would get WhatsApp alerts of stuff such as bank transactions, flights, a courier being dispatched, or the shoes you ordered online – alerts we generally receive via text messages.

But there’s a third category as well: Yes, marketing messages, or what we commonly refer to as spam. Since, WhatsApp has for the first time allowed businesses to open accounts, thus expect to be hit with a barrage of messages from X,Y or Z company. While WhatsApp has said there won’t be third-party banner ads, it would be small solace if your data (that is interests, friends, their interests etc) are mined to hit you with targeted ads, a la Facebook.

“WhatsApp has fallen – fallen prey to the money-making wiles of its parent,” my Silicon Valley-based open-source fanatic friend exclaimed. He was ruing the fact that the most popular “end-to-end encrypted” messaging platform was ready to potentially give access to your profile (not personal data) to advertisers.

ALSO READ: 6 FAQs by WhatsApp on it’s latest info sharing with Facebook

We in India feel no such outrage. This is because your phone number is shared most liberally by anyone and everyone who has access to it, the government’s do not call registry be damned. Despite being on this list since its inception, I get at least 10 unsolicited calls every week. And that is not counting the numerous text and WhatsApp messages promising the earth, the sky and good heavens what not.

ALSO READ: WhatsApp to share users’ phone numbers with parent firm Facebook

In its defence, WhatsApp wants to use your data for three purposes. It states:

“We will be able to more accurately count unique users.

We can better fight spam and abuse.

If you are a Facebook user, you might see better friend suggestions and more relevant ads on Facebook”.

In a country where privacy isn’t considered sacrosanct, WhatsApp’s change might not be more than a bubble. But if you do want your privacy, WhatsApp has promised to respect it too. Thus, it has given one of the option of opting out. Tech blogs have listed two ways of doing it:

One, when WhatsApp’s new terms and conditions crop up, before clicking on “Agree”, one needs to scroll down to the link “Read more about the key updates to our terms and privacy policy.” Click this and then uncheck the checked box to opt out.

But, if you’ve already accepted the terms and conditions (I haven’t yet since it hasn’t updated on my phone yet), there’s still 30 days to opt out. All one needs to do is click on Settings, and then the Account tab, and then “Share my account info”. At the bottom is a checked box which has to be unchecked to opt. As long as WhatsApp doesn’t make this mandatory, there’s not much to fear.

And if you don’t have a Facebook account, you don’t need to create one to keep using WhatsApp.

So that’s it. Opt out if you value your privacy on WhatsApp. But that’s not to stop those spam messages from coming from those who have bought your number as part of a “database”. For them, you’ll still be using a blocker. Happy messaging!

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