WhatsApp is forcing users to share data with Facebook, unless you're living in the EU

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What just happened? Apple’s latest iOS privacy update is pushing companies like Facebook into fight of flight mode. This is why WhatsApp has decided to impose a new policy on its users if they want to continue using the service, with the exception of people who live in the EU.

This week, Facebook-owned WhatsApp started giving users a pop-up alert that looks a lot like an ultimatum for people who want to continue using the app. Essentially, it says that people need to agree to new terms of service by February 8 or risk losing access to your WhatsApp next month.

The revamped set of requirements is also a reversal on a one-time decision in 2016 that allowed users to opt out of having their account data turned over to Facebook. This includes phone numbers, friends’ phone numbers, profile names and pictures, status messages and activity status, as well as detailed diagnostic data from app logs. However, the new policy means Facebook reserves the right to share the data collected within its family of online platforms.

Furthermore, there will be cases where Facebook decides to share that data with third parties, which has privacy groups riled up again. The move is in response to Apple’s new privacy labels on iOS 14, which highlight all the different ways certain free apps collect information about their users. This was particularly revealing for the Facebook family of apps, which happens to have the most extensive list of all.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Facebook is so adamant in collecting all that metadata, as the company makes most of its revenue from advertising. Last month, it plunged into a public image feud with Apple using several newspaper ads, but their effect has yet to produce any results. As for the Cupertino company, they say they’re simply encouraging app makers to be more forthcoming with how they monetize their apps.

When WhatsApp’s in-app alert hit the first users, some speculated that it would spark regulatory scrutiny in the EU, which is known for having stricter privacy rules. However, WhatsApp’s Irish subsidiary said in a statement today that while European users are shown the same prompt to agree to the revamped privacy policy, in their case it doesn’t include sharing that data with Facebook’s other online platforms or third parties.

A WhatsApp spokeswoman explained “there are no changes to WhatsApp’s data sharing practices in the European region arising from the updated terms of service and privacy policy. For the avoidance of any doubt, it is still the case that WhatsApp does not share European region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or advertisements.” This was further confirmed by the company’s director of policy for the EMEA region, Niamh Sweeney.

The fact still remains that users outside the EU have to agree to a higher degree of data sharing, stressing the need for tougher privacy regulation in the United States, as well as other regions with permissive environments. In the meantime, smaller iOS developers are getting creative with how they subvert Apple’s privacy update for iOS users.