Democrats urge Facebook to reverse WhatsApp privacy update

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Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Tuesday urged Facebook to reverse plans for a required update to its messaging platform subsidiary WhatsApp over concerns about data privacy.

WhatsApp is issuing an update to its terms and services as it allows users to talk to businesses on the platform.

WhatsApp has said that the update will not change its policies around keeping personal conversations encrypted, meaning Facebook and WhatsApp cannot read the messages.

But the Democrats wrote in a letter Tuesday that WhatsApp’s failure to commit to the same privacy policy for the messages with businesses is a “potential misuse of data,” and could lead to the use of that information for targeted advertising.

The key concern the lawmakers highlighted is the fact that “this policy may not provide an option to opt out.” 

After receiving a “persistent reminder” about the update, users will “encounter limited functionality on WhatsApp” until they accept the update, according to WhatsApp.

The Democrats underscored their request for the update to be reversed by noting that WhatsApp is a popular app used by immigrant communities in the U.S. with ties abroad. 

“As Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, we are concerned that WhatsApp’s policy change may leave our immigrant communities vulnerable to further ad targeting. We believe consumers deserve the option to use WhatsApp knowing that their privacy will be protected the way the founders intended, and the way Facebook promised to uphold,” they wrote in the letter led by Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.). 

A WhatsApp spokesperson said the company will respond to the lawmakers to explain the update. 

“We’ve spent the last several months providing more information about our update to users around the world. In that time, the majority of people who have received it have accepted it,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson’s statement also noted that personal messages will continue to be protected by end-to-end encryption and said that the update “does not expand WhatsApp’s ability to share data with Facebook.”

Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014, as well as its acquisition of Instagram, is the basis for the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of state attorneys general antitrust lawsuits against the social media behemoth. 

Facebook has denied allegations that it maintains an illegal monopoly.

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