Leading messaging App WhatsApp may lose millions of subscribers over the ongoing row with its new policies. The messaging app which has over 2.5 billion subscribers has started its long announced restructuring that is expected to come into effect by February 8, this development however, has coalesced millions of users up in arms protesting against what they see as far more intrusions on their privacy that earlier thought.

This is because WhatsApp has announced that if users fail to agree to its new privacy policy within the next month, they will lose access to the app. Tech security experts say that agreeing to the terms will mean that a user’s private data, including their phone number, will be shared with Facebook, which owns WhatsApp.

The update comes in the form of an in-app notification, which users can choose to ignore until the date arrives.  “By tapping Agree, you accept the new terms, which take effect on February 8, 2021,” the notification states. After this date, you’ll need to accept the new terms to continue using WhatsApp. You can also visit the Help Center if you would prefer to delete your account.”

Sources say the new update is designed to “offer integrations across the Facebook Company Products”, which also includes Instagram and Messenger. Data collected includes “battery level, signal strength, app version, browser information, mobile network, connection information (including phone number, mobile operator or ISP), language and time zone, IP address, device operations information, and identifiers (including identifiers unique to Facebook Company Products associated with the same device or account).”

Some WhatsApp users criticised the new privacy policy on social media, with many saying they planned to move to a rival messaging app like Telegram. But with around 2.5 billion users worldwide, WhatsApp is by far the most popular messaging app in the world. However, since it was acquired by Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion, it has faced criticism for the way it handles users’ data. WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum stepped down as the firm’s chief executive in 2018 due to a reported irreconcilable clash over Facebook’s decision to monetise personal data in the app.

Critics point out that an older version of WhatsApp’s privacy policy stated: “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA. Since we started WhatsApp, we’ve aspired to build our Services with a set of strong privacy principles in mind.” This line is no longer present in the latest version. The new policy also means that simply deleting the app from a device will not prevent WhatsApp from retaining a user’s private data. To ensure WhatsApp no longer continues to do this, users must instead use the in-app feature for deleting their account. The policy notes that even after using this delete feature, some data will remain with the company, stating, “when you delete your account, it does not affect your information related to the groups you created or the information other users have relating to you, such as their copy of the messages you sent them.

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