WhatsApp to restrict features for non-acceptance of privacy policy

Published on 09 May 2021

Over the coming months, Facebook will start restricting features available on WhatsApp for users who do not accept the new privacy policy. WhatsApp has started pushing prompts to its users to accept the privacy policy if they have not already done so.

Background about the new privacy policy

WhatsApp had announced an update to its privacy policy back in January of 2021 which was supposed to go into effect on February 8th. Accounts of users who do not accept the policy would be deleted. However, due to poorly worded communication, misinformation, and Facebook's poor track record with regards to data handling and privacy, there was a huge backlash against the update. Many users believed that the policy update would allow Whatsapp to share sensitive information and their private chats with parent company Facebook.

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In truth, the update would not have those effects. The update was meant to disclose and inform users that businesses that use WhatsApp for customer support, will be able to store the chats they have with customers on Facebook's servers. Most people did not understand the impact of the update and were concerned their private chats and data would be shared with Facebook. The news caught the world's attention and resulted in millions of users leaving the chat service for its competitors. Signal and Telegram, WhatsApp's top competitors, saw millions of users downloading their app. Signal and Telegram even held the top two positions for most downloaded apps on Apple's App Store.

Facebook's response to the backlash

To address public concerns and stem the tide of users leaving the platform, Facebook first announced that it would extend the deadline for users to accept the new policy to May 15th. The company also shared updated communication clarifying the impact of the update. In that post, the company warned that accounts of users who did not accept the policy by May 15th would be deleted.

Facebook will not delete user accounts

If you have not accepted the news update by now, this is what you can expect to happen over the coming weeks. Users' accounts will not be deleted if they fail to meet the May 15th deadline. Instead, they will lose access to the features of the app. Users will see a continuous prompt to accept the policy whenever they open the app. Facebook plans to restrict features in phases. In the first phase, users will not be able to access their chat list anymore. However, they will be able to answer any incoming phone or video calls on the app. As notifications will be enabled, it will be possible for users to respond to messages and return any missed calls.

A few weeks later the second phase of restrictions will be released. In this phase users will stop receiving calls and messages on the app i.e WhatsApp will no longer function as a messaging client. These changes will not take go into effect for all users at the same time. It seems, the company plans to release restrictions, monitor public response, and proceed accordingly. As per WhatsApp's current policy, it deletes accounts of users who have been inactive i.e. have not connected to WhatsApp for 120 days. It is unclear if Facebook will consider accounts that are no longer receiving calls and messages as inactive and delete them after 120 days. Users will be allowed to export their chat history and move it to another app that supports that function like Telegram.

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