WhatsApp postpones new privacy policy amid ‘confusion’

The messaging app has pushed back the Feb. 8 deadline after a bungled rollout.

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Karissa Bell
January 15th, 2021
WhatsApp logo on the App Store displayed on a phone screen and WhatsApp logo in the background are seen in this illustration photo taken in Poland on January 14, 2021. Signal and Telegram messenger apps gained popularity due to the new WhatsApp's privacy policy. (Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

WhatsApp says it will give users more time to agree to its controversial new privacy policy, citing mass “confusion” and “misinformation” about the update. The Facebook-owned messaging app now says that it will allow users to “review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” and that it won’t be cutting off anyone’s service on February 8. 

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update,” the company wrote in an update. “There's been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts.” The company said it remains committed to end-to-end encryption and that “this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook.”

WhatsApp’s decision to delay the new policy comes after the company abruptly introduced privacy changes earlier this month with a pop-up warning that users could accept the new policy by Feb. 8, or lose their ability to use the app altogether. The new terms address the company’s recent focus on business messaging, a feature that’s widely used in many places outside the US. But the warning alarmed many users, who interpreted the changes as Facebook tightening its grip over their data.

Now, WhatsApp is walking back some of its previous messaging. “We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms,” the company says. “No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.”

Even with the delay, WhatsApp may find it difficult to reverse the damage that’s already been done. Encrypted messaging app Signal — which is now backed by one of WhatsApp’s original founders who has turned into a vocal critic of Facebook in recent years  — has seen a wave of new users since WhatsApp’s bungled privacy announcement (and an extra boost from Elon Musk). It’s also prompted investigations from officials in multiple countries.

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