WhatsApp privacy policy deadline of May 15 is now sheer blackmailing for users

WhatsApp privacy policy deadline of May 15 is now sheer blackmailing for users

WhatsApp is finally implementing its latest privacy policy with a new usage agreement with a plan to share more data of WhatsApp users with parent company Facebook. The deadline to accept a new privacy policy for WhatsApp users is May 15. The policy, first told to users in early 2021, created a lot of controversy. 

The whole thing started with an in-app notification in early January that prompted WhatsApp users to accept the new "Updated Terms and Privacy Policy". Then the backlash from users began.

This time, however, WhatsApp has said that accepting the policy is not mandatory, but if users don't accept it, they will lose access to some of the top features of WhatsApp. In other words, yet again, WhatsApp is telling its users that accept it or else

Users, in particular, objected to one thing: the high-handed way in which WhatsApp forced users to accept the new privacy policy. It said that users have to accept the policy or else they will lose access to the app and they will no longer be allowed to use WhatsApp.

The company said that it was all for the benefit of users. It argued that the changes in data sharing with Facebook enabled by the new privacy policy ONLY concerned the business accounts and the chats users would do with such accounts.

Facebook and WhatsApp, on their part, explained that the new privacy policy was necessary because WhatsApp had to share some info with Facebook to implement the e-commerce features in the app. It was also necessary for the app to make the business accounts function better.

However, most users were not convinced. They saw that WhatsApp was going to share more data with Facebook and that spooked them. They also did not like the fact that WhatsApp was telling them to accept the policy or else lose access to the app.

So, a stalemate was reached. WhatsApp pushed the deadline for the new privacy policy to May 15. It also promised to do a better job examining its privacy policy for users.

Now the May 15 deadline is approaching. Unlike last time, this time WhatsApp has changed the tactics. It now says that no one will lose access to the app if they don't accept the new privacy. Instead, they will only lose access to some — IMPORTANT — features.

In a way, it is more or less the same thing. The objective of WhatsApp remains the same, and it knows that by reducing features it is essentially forcing users to accept the new privacy policy. In other words, it looks like blackmailing.

And it seems more like that, because if people can use the same features now when they haven't accepted the new privacy policy, that means the limit that WhatsApp is going to put into the app after May 15 is artificial.

Features that won't work after May 15

WhatsApp recently published an FAQ page acknowledging what happens on May 15 to users who do not accept the new terms and privacy policy. "No one will have their accounts deleted or lose functionality of WhatsApp on May 15 because of this update," the first line on the FAQ page reads.

WhatsApp adds that users still have time to accept the updates after May 15. What that means is the messaging platform will keep showing a persistent reminder on the app, and soon after, users will see limited functionality until the user accepts new terms.

Talking about limited functionality, the WhatsApp FAQ page adds that users won't be able to access their chat list but can answer incoming voice and video calls till some time. A persistent reminder will show every time users who haven't accepted the new policy will open WhatsApp. The company, however, points out that users who have notifications enabled can tap on them to read or respond to a message or call back a missed phone or video call.

"After a few weeks of limited functionality, you won't be able to receive incoming calls or notifications, and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone," the company adds.

Essentially, while you retain your WhatsApp account, if you don't accept the new privacy policy, you will not be able to do much with the app. In other words, it is again the same message from WhatsApp: Accept our policy or go use something else.

This is problematic. For two reasons. One, even though WhatsApp argues that its new policy is all about business accounts, when users are not accepting the new policy, they are losing access to not just business chats and business account features in the app but also to personal chats etc.

If WhatsApp really has the convenience of users in mind, why can't it let people who use WhatsApp strictly for personal communication continue with the older privacy policy? It can easily do that and say to users that hey if you want to access business chats and e-commerce features, accept the new privacy policy. Or else, you will be able to use the app only for private communication. But that is not what WhatsApp is saying.

And two, the new privacy policy is not applicable to users in a number of other countries where privacy laws are strong, and governments often safeguard the interests of users. For example, the new privacy policy isn't being implemented everywhere as Europe has already been exempted from the new rules.

Of course, it needs to be said that WhatsApp is a private service. It owes no obligation to users, except the ones specified by law. But it is also a service that is used by over a billion people across the world. So, it is not just another app. It is part of life, and hence everything that it does is going to come under public scrutiny that smaller apps may avoid or get away with.

Just like how it played out earlier in 2021, the story of the new privacy policy from WhatsApp is again unfolding in a similar way. In other words, once again, WhatsApp is forcing users to accept the new privacy policy, and this time it is doing so by blackmailing users by threatening to withhold key features from them if they don't say yes to its demands.