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WhatsApp’s New Privacy Policy Goes Into Effect Today. Why Facebook Is Playing Hardball with Your Data

One of the reasons most people don’t read privacy policies is because, to use an app or service, you don’t actually have a choice. It’s almost always just another screen you have to click through to get to what you want. If you don’t, you can’t use the app.

It’s one thing when that’s the case for a new service you just added to your phone, but what if you’ve been using the app for years and suddenly the privacy policy has changed. Not only that, what if you’re one of 2 billion people who use the app, largely because it promised to never use your information in certain ways, only now to change its mind.

That’s exactly what happened with WhatsApp

Today is the day that WhatsApp users will have to accept the company’s controversial new privacy policy, or risk losing the ability to use the app over the next few weeks.

If you don’t accept the policy when you see the prompt, eventually it will become persistent and most features will stop working. When that happens, your account will then be subject to they company’s standard deletion policy, which means that you’ll lose your account altogether after 120 days. 

If you think about it, that’s a pretty hardball tactic to force a new privacy policy on people. Of course, that’s not all that surprising, considering it’s Facebook. 

To really understand why Facebook is playing hardball over a privacy policy, it’s important to start with what is changing. The new policy clarifies that WhatsApp may share certain information with Facebook about messages between you and businesses. More specifically, Facebook will now allow businesses to host these conversations on its servers, which means it will know when you interact with one of those companies. 

It won’t, however, know anything about the contents of those conversations. That part hasn’t changed.

Maybe more importantly, and the reason so many people are upset about the new policy, you used to have a choice whether to share this information. Now, you either accept the privacy policy, or you’ll eventually have to stop using the app. 

The reason Facebook is forcing this on users is they same reason it does everything–making it harder to eliminate Facebook from your life. It’s the same reason it is forcing users to connect its other messaging apps, Messenger and Instagram, another feature absolutely no one is asking for.

The more integrated Facebook’s apps are, the easier it is to track all of your information and use it to show you ads. The more time you spend on Facebook, the more opportunities it has to monetize your engagement and personal information. That’s especially important now that Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature has gone into effect and the vast majority of users are opting-out. The more first-party data Facebook can collect and share between its own apps, the less it is affected by the limitation on sharing third-party data.

WhatsApp, of course, doesn’t show you ads, and Facebook says that’s not changing. It also doesn’t generate any significant amount of revenue for Facebook. Considering its the world’s largest messaging app, that’s a remarkable fact. 

That doesn’t mean that Facebook doesn’t have plans to monetize WhatsApp, however. The company’s new privacy policy says just that: 

Our Privacy Policy explains how we work together to improve our services and offerings, like fighting spam across apps, making product suggestions, and showing relevant offers and ads on Facebook.

And that, my readers, is exactly why Facebook is forcing users to accept a new privacy policy or lose access to WhatsApp–so it can show offers and ads on Facebook. It knows it can get away with it because WhatsApp is a vital messaging tool for a quarter of the world’s population who depend on it for basic communications.

Facebook is leveraging WhatsApp’s position to further the growth of its data monetization engine on Facebook. That may be playing hardball, but from Facebook, it’s really exactly what you would expect. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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