South African regulator reviewing new WhatsApp policy changes

South Africa’s Information Regulator met on Wednesday (13 January) to discuss WhatsApp”s new privacy policy and its implications for the country.

The regulator said it has made contact with Facebook South Africa on the issue, and that the company has provided it with the WhatsApp privacy policy for analysis.

“In terms of the revised policy, it appears that there are different terms of service and privacy policies for users in the European countries and in non-European countries,” the regulator said.

“The regulator will be analysing whether the terms of service and the privacy policies indeed differ and whether the privacy policy applicable to users outside Europe, which include the South African users are in compliance with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).”

The regulator said it will engage with Facebook after the completion of the analysis. “The regulator remains committed to ensuring the protection of personal information of South African citizens,” it said.

Privacy changes

The review comes after  WhatsApp updated its terms and conditions section to include further Facebook integration – including a requirement that app users share data with the company.

In an in-app message sent to users, WhatsApp said that the changes will include:

  • Updates to WhatsApp’s service and how it processes your data;
  • How businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats;
  • How WhatsApp will partner with Facebook to offer integrations across Facebook Company products.

WhatsApp said that these changes will officially come into effect from 8 February. After this date, any user which has not agreed to the new terms will no longer be able to use the messaging service.

Under the new terms, Facebook reserves the right to share collected data with its family of companies.

According to WhatsApp, the privacy policy update does not affect the privacy of the users’ messages with friends or family.

“We can’t see your private messages or hear your calls, and neither can Facebook. Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read your messages or hear your calls with your friends, family, and co-workers on WhatsApp,” the messaging app said this week.

“Whatever you share, it stays between you. That’s because your personal messages are protected by end-to-end encryption. We will never weaken this security and we clearly label each chat so you know our commitment.”

In addition, WhatsApp stated that it cannot keep logs of who everyone is messaging or calling, see the shared location and neither can Facebook.

“We don’t share your contacts with Facebook when you give us permission, we access only the phone numbers from your address book to make messaging fast and reliable, and we don’t share your contacts lists with the other apps Facebook offers,” its statement shared on its website read.

Meanwhile, it claims that groups remain private.

“We use group membership to deliver messages and to protect our service from spam and abuse. We don’t share this data with Facebook for ads purposes. Again, these private chats are end-to-end encrypted so we can’t see their content.”

In addition, according to the app, users can still set messages to disappear.

“For additional privacy, you can choose to set your messages to disappear from chats after you send them.”

Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014. The company was founded by Jan Koum and Brian Acton who had previously spent 20 years combined at Yahoo.

More than two billion people in over 180 countries use the app, which is currently available as a free download.

With SA News

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South African regulator reviewing new WhatsApp policy changes