Most people don’t have time to be bothered by something as mundane as reading privacy policies. You know, those few thousand-word statements on how companies manage the information you give them. You should. If you did, you might be a bit concerned.
To be fair, the policy is mostly the same as it’s been for quite some time. The company does plan to collect more personal information, but only in a very specific case–when you interact with businesses. As far as your messages, the company couldn’t snoop those even if it wanted to. They’re still end-to-end encrypted, just as they’ve been since WhatsApp added that layer of security in 2016.
The fact that so many people automatically considered it another information grab by Facebook shows just how little people trust the social media giant, and how poorly it handled the roll out. That’s on Facebook.
In reality, there are basically two things that have changed. The first is that WhatsApp is now making it clear that it may share information about conversations you have with businesses while using the service. For example, Facebook is allowing businesses to host those conversations on its servers, which means that Facebook will receive information about your interaction (but not the contents of your messages).
Facebook has been inching towards integrating all of its separate apps and share information between them, whether you want it to or not. That’s because Facebook makes money by tracking what you do online, and then showing you ads. The more information it has about you, the better it can target those ads. The more integrated its apps, the better it can do all of that.
Of course, WhatsApp doesn’t show ads. As a result, it generates almost no revenue, which is staggering considering it’s the world’s largest messaging platform with over two billion monthly users.
Of course, ads are the lifeblood of Facebook’s profit machine. It’s literally the world’s second-largest advertising platform behind Google. Every product and service it builds ultimately has to serve the company’s need for growth by collecting more user data or monetizing it through interactions with businesses who pay for ads and access to customers.
The problem is, WhatsApp and Facebook did a terrible job of explaining that. It didn’t help that the company isn’t making changes to make the app better or to create a better overall user experience. It’s making changes to make it easier for Facebook to monetize the way you use the app.
This isn’t the first time. Last year, Facebook redesigned the Instagram app and replaced the icons for posting photos or viewing who had liked your posts with the icons for Reels and Shopping. Effectively, it made it harder to do the thing you usually open the app to do, hoping you’ll tap on one of the new features instead.
In 2019, it took the step of adding “From Facebook” to both Instagram and WhatsApp as some sort of branding push. The changes to WhatsApp are similar in that they reflect Facebook’s slow march toward integrating all of its products, even those with their own unique user base.
To me, it seems like Facebook fundamentally misunderstands why people use WhatsApp and Instagram. They certainly don’t use them because they want more Facebook. They use them because they want to send their friends messages or post an image for their followers to see.
Facebook has made it pretty clear over the past year that it doesn’t really care how or why its users actually want to use its products. What it cares about most is how it can benefit Facebook.
That should be very troubling because it means that Facebook isn’t concerned with providing a great experience that aligns with the best interests of its users–it’s mostly just concerned with giving them more Facebook, whether they want it or not. That’s a big mistake.
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