Compliance Management, Privacy, Threat Management

WhatsApp to share users’ phone numbers with Facebook

WhatsApp announced a revised privacy policy that will allow the messaging service to share user phone numbers with Facebook. The revised policy will allow WhatsApp's parent company Facebook to use WhatsApp information to display friend suggestions and targeted ads on the social networking website.

WhatsApp users “might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you've never heard of,” WhatsApp wrote on a blog post Thursday.

The change marks the first update to WhatsApp's privacy policy since the messaging service was acquired by Facebook in October 2014. While WhatsApp said the policy changes will enable the company to “track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam,” the changes have prompted concerns among privacy groups.

Nate Cardozo, senior staff attorney on the digital civil liberties team at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said the new policy “was not thought through very well.” Speaking with on Thursday, he said users would not want their WhatsApp information to be associated with their Facebook account in several scenarios.

When users rely on WhatsApp to connect with mental health professionals, “I do not necessarily want my therapist to show up as a suggested friend on Facebook,” he told Democracy activists in the Middle East or LGBT activists in Russia face more serious threats as a result of the privacy changes, he added.

“Privacy has become a primary consideration in major corporate acquisitions and restructurings,” Omer Tene, VP of research and education, International Association of Privacy Professionals (‎IAPP), wrote in an email to on Thursday. “Companies now realize the importance of implementing sound data governance and privacy by design from the earliest stages, to secure future growth and potential acquisitions.”

Cardozo told that he appreciates the option that allows WhatsApp users to opt-out of sharing their information with Facebook, but called the opt-out process “confusing.”

“It is also not clear that new users will be able to opt-out,” Cardozo said. “If that is the case, then that is extremely disappointing.”

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