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WhatsApp punishes users for not accepting update

WhatsApp is trying to pressure its users into accepting a new privacy policy. Even if you don’t use the app yourself, this is a worrying development. If people can be bullied into submitting to questionable user agreements, the practice could become widespread among social media companies. Here’s why that’s bad news.

Malcolm Higgins

Malcolm Higgins

May 18, 2021 · 3 min read

WhatsApp punishes users for not accepting update

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

In early 2021, WhatsApp announced a relatively inconsequential update to their privacy policy. While the changes were minimal, they prompted users and journalists to take a closer look at what the Facebook-owned app had already written into their fine print.

The backlash intensified as the public realized just how much data the app was gathering about them and sharing with Facebook. In response, WhatsApp delayed the update until May, when the changes finally came into effect.

Now WhatsApp users are being offered a choice. They can either agree to the new privacy policy, or start losing essential app features.

What happens is you don’t accept the changes?

If you don’t agree to the new WhatsApp privacy policy, you will begin to notice a steady decline in the app’s functionality. Ultimately, it will become unusable.

You’ll lose access to your chat list, and will no longer be able to initiate conversations. The app will stop giving you notifications. Then, if you’ve still not caved after several weeks, calls and messages will cease to function completely.

In essence, if you don’t play along, you won't be able to continue using WhatsApp.

A new precedent in data gathering

Even if you’re not a WhatsApp user yourself, the fallout from this development could still impact you. Giving people this kind of ultimatum sets a precedent for tech giants and software vendors elsewhere.

Will other companies start using similarly aggressive strategies to punish users who don’t accept their T&Cs? Almost certainly. Facebook could view this as a trial-run for how they enforce their own privacy policies. Since they also own Instagram, we may see these tactics used there as well.

The problem is that, after years of intensifying social media integration, most people are just too dependent on services like WhatsApp and Facebook to walk away. Facebook is expanding into health data, IoT devices, and cryptocurrency: their privacy policies impact the lives of billions of people around the globe.

How can you protect your privacy?

The struggle of private citizens to control their own data is one of the defining challenges in this century. The more dependent you are on the products of private corporations — from WhatsApp and Facebook to Amazon and other data-driven enterprises — the more effective these aggressive approaches will be.

However, there are still some steps that individuals can take to enhance personal privacy and strengthen data protection. Big tech is demanding access to every detail of your life; here’s how to say no.

Identify your own red lines.

How much information are you really happy to give away? Companies like Facebook rely on people putting convenience over privacy, so it’s important to work out what your personal red lines are. Are you willing to have your data sold to third parties? Are you comfortable giving a corporation access to your contact list? If the answer is no, a little inconvenience might be worth your own peace of mind.

Diversify your apps.

Don’t rely solely on one service for messages and calls. If WhatsApp is the only way you can contact family and friends, it will be much easier for the company to pressure you into accepting their terms. There are a range of secure communication apps that you can turn to instead. When a tech giant monopolizes part of your life, you’ve lost half the battle.

Read through privacy agreements.

While it’s easy to skim over privacy agreements and T&Cs, we really recommend that you take the time to read them. Agreeing to give away any degree of legal control over your data should never be a snap decision. If you’re unsure what to look out for in the fine print, check out our interview with an expert on terms of service agreements.

Protect your data with encryption.

Your internet service provider (ISP) is probably monitoring and selling information on your browsing habits to advertisers. To combat this, start using a VPN, or virtual private network. Services like NordVPN can keep your data out of the hands of corporations, as well as protecting you against hackers and other cybercriminals.

Online security starts with a click.

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