WhatsApp has reversed course on its decision to limit app functionality for users who do not agree with policy changes that have caused controversy in recent months.
The new terms were first due to roll out in February and were then pushed back to a May 15 deadline amidst concerns that Facebook would be given access to user data and potentially chat content, and thereby erode the privacy that WhatsApp was originally created for.
However, the changes did not prove popular — nor WhatsApp’s ‘take it or leave it’ approach to users, who were told to expect limited app functionality if they did not agree to the new terms.
Originally, WhatsApp said that users who refused would encounter persistent reminders for a few weeks and gradual, dialed-back functions, such as being unable to access chat lists.
“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 said in its FAQ.
While chats and user contacts wouldn’t be shared with Facebook, user profile data would be shared once that user communicated with a business on WhatsApp.
However, this assurance wasn’t enough to placate some of WhatsApp’s two billion users, millions of which have since turned to encrypted chat alternatives including Signal and Telegram.
WhatsApp has since attempted to explain what the privacy changes mean for users, but as the controversial changes prompted German regulators to file an emergency three-month ban prohibiting Facebook from processing personal data from WhatsApp “for its own purposes,” it seems the company has finally dialed back its heavy-handed approach.
The privacy term updates have gone ahead, but users that refuse can carry on using WhatsApp as normal.
“No one will have their accounts deleted or lose functionality of WhatsApp on May 15th because of this update,” the company says.
“Considering the majority of users who have seen the update have accepted, we’ll continue to display a notification in WhatsApp providing more information about the update and reminding those who haven’t had a chance to do so to review and accept. We currently have no plans for these reminders to become persistent and to limit the functionality of the app.”
Accounts that do not accept the privacy terms will not be deleted.
However, WhatsApp added that there will be “opportunities” for those who have not accepted the changes to do so directly in the app, such as when users reregister or “if someone wants to use a feature that’s related to this update for the first time.”
In related Facebook news, at the F8 developer conference, Facebook announced a swathe of changes to the WhatsApp Business API to improve uptake, API onboarding, and overall speed; as well as new messaging features to bolster integration of business chatbots on the platform.
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