- Badly-worded policy update caused a furore among WhatsApp users last month
- The firm said it was a victim of 'misinformation' about the changes being made
- The app's users thought it was letting parent firm Facebook read their messages
- In fact the new change affects the way WhatsApp lets businesses communicate
- Users will need to accept the terms by May 15 they want to still use WhatsApp
- They'll be able to do this by tapping on an in-app banner that will start to appearWhatsApp has announced a new in-app banner where users can review information about, and agree to, an upcoming policy update.
The Facebook-owned chat app will begin displaying the small rectangular banner, which will appear above the chats list, in 'the coming weeks'.
All WhatsApp users will have to agree to the new policy update by May 15 or risk losing access to the app. WhatsApp has stressed that the update is merely related to policy changes necessary to allow users to message businesses on the app.
When the changes were announced last month, they were widely misinterpreted, making WhatsApp the victim of 'misinformation', according to the firm.
WhatsApp users had thought that the app was about to let its parent firm Facebook read their messages – but WhatsApp has has reiterated that it won't ever allow this.
WhatsApp will also be displaying messages in the Status section of the app that will declare the its commitment to privacy – and its promise that conversations will remain end-to-end encrypted.
'We previously encountered a great deal of misinformation about this update and we continue to work hard to clear up any confusion.
'In the coming weeks, we’ll display a banner in WhatsApp providing more information that people can read at their own pace.'
Tapping on 'review' will bring up a deeper summary for users to read through before continuing to the next page, where they can click the big green 'Accept' button.
WhatsApp users will have to accept the new terms by May 15 or risk losing access to the app.
After May 15, users who haven't accepted them can still receive calls and get notifications for a short time, but they’ll need to agree to the update to be able to read or send messages, WhatsApp confirmed.
A backlash was directed at the firm over its confusing announcement of the update last month, which caused confusion and privacy concerns among some users.
This misstep from the popular chat giant has resulted in a saga more complicated than it ever should have been, so let's start from the beginning.
At the beginning of January, WhatsApp started sending full-screen notifications to users to a change to its terms and conditions.
As the alert pointed out, the update would be enabling a new set of business features (more on this later).
The problem was that the alert included incidental information of a data sharing policy with its parent company Facebook that has been in effect since 2016.
'We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customise, support, and market our Services and their offerings, including the Facebook Company Products.'
What this means is Facebook can access account information including your phone number, information on how you interact with other users, and logs of how often and how long you use WhatsApp.
Other data that could be shared with Facebook includes your IP address, browser details, language and time zone.
However, WhatsApp and Facebook cannot read or listen to personal conversations on WhatsApp, because they’re end-to-end encrypted.
Despite this, many WhatsApp users took the drastic step of abandoning the app, thinking they were about to have their personal conversations and the photos within them shared with Facebook staff.
WhatsApp lost millions of users who jumped shipped and started using rival chat apps like Telegram and Signal.
Figures shared by the UK parliament's home affairs committee on 'online harms' showed Signal gained 7.5 million users in the first three weeks of 2021, while Telegram gained a whopping 25 million.
WhatsApp users also took to social media to share their displeasure.
One Twitter user said that he had deleted WhatsApp after coming to see Facebook as a 'criminal enterprise'.
Following the drama, WhatsApp published a blog post on January 15 to clear up the confusion and 'misinformation', and reveal that the deadline for agreeing to the terms and conditions would be pushed back from February 8 to May 15.
WhatsApp also said it saw some of its competitors 'try to get away with claiming they can’t see people’s messages' without naming names.
'We will always protect your personal conversations with end-to-end encryption, so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see these private messages,' it said in the January 15 post.
'With these updates, none of that is changing.'
This means WhatsApp does not share European region user data with Facebook to improve products or ads – but that is not the case for the rest of the world.
However, all users had to (and still have to) accept the terms as the update applies globally.
Because of the regional difference, the full-screen alerts in January varied based on whether users were in the UK and Europe or the rest of the world.
The alert for people outside the UK and Europe had an addendum about how the app partners with Facebook 'to offer integrations across the Facebook Company Products'.
This detail was absent from the UK and Europe alert, but the other detail about changes to business features on the app was there.
As of today (February 18), WhatsApp users still have until May 15 to agree to the changes (although, as announced, the banner alert to do so will look less intimating that the full-screen version when it rolls out).
WhatsApp has also today clarified what these changes actually are and whether they're as controversial as the firm breaking its promise on end-to-end encryption.
Essentially, users have to agree to allow businesses to store and manage their WhatsApp chats on Facebook.
Businesses are being given the option to use secure hosting services from Facebook to manage WhatsApp chats with their customers, answer questions and send information like purchase receipts.
But there will be no change in data sharing with Facebook for non-business chats and account information.
WhatsApp says: 'You’ll be able to talk to more businesses on WhatsApp to get things done faster compared to phone or email. This is completely optional.
'Bigger businesses, like an airline or retailer, might hear from thousands of customers at a time – asking for information on a flight, or trying to track their order.
'To make sure they can respond quickly, these businesses may use Facebook as a technology provider to manage some of the responses on their behalf.
'We will clearly label chats to make you aware when that happens.'
The lesson here is for tech firms to explicitly and unambiguously state in their communications what any new changes actually are, one expert suggests.
'Most of us don’t read the terms and conditions before accepting updates and getting on with using our messaging or other apps,' said Dr Bill Mitchell, director of policy at BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.
'If we do read them, we’re unlikely to understand every aspect of the precise legal wording.
'That’s why it’s important and welcome when social media companies work harder to summarise these updates in more accessible, easy to understand formats.
'It’s vital to have transparency and clear communication from tech companies on how they gather, store, share and process our data to understand our preferences and anticipate our choices.'