WhatsApp has moved to reassure European users that they will not be forced to agree to share personal information with Facebook.
The Facebook-owned platform, which has more than two billion users globally, has updated its terms of service in a move that has led to widespread confusion about its future plans.
Multiple media organisations reported that WhatsApp users were effectively being given an ultimatum: agree to share personal data such as contacts, phone numbers and photos with Facebook by Februrary 8th, or stop using the messaging service.
WhatsApp’s Irish arm however said on Thursday that while users in Europe are in the process of being issued new terms of services to which they must agree, the revised agreement did not include data sharing.
WhatsApp’s director of policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Niamh Sweeney, also sought to reassure users in a series of tweets.
“The latest update to our privacypolicy is about providing clearer, more detailed information to our users on how and why we use data,” she said.
“It’s also about improving how businesses use WhatsApp to connect with customers. The updated policy provides info on how businesses using the WhatsApp API to talk to customers can now do so using a Facebook-provided service to help them manage their chats with customers,” she added.
WhatsApp stressed that any plan to share data with Facebook or other group companies would only be done once the company had agreed this with the Irish Data Protection Commission, which is the lead regulator for the service in Europe.
The company was unable to immediately confirm if an ultimatium id apply to users outside of Europe at the time of publication.
Any such move to change data sharing arrangements, would represent a serious about-turn from Facebook, which sought to assure WhatsApp users that their data would remain private when it acquired the company for $19 billion in 2014.
Part of what led to WhatsApp rise in popularity was its promise not to share users’ personal information, something that Facebook recognised when it acquired the business.
Under a revised user agreement issued two years after the purchase, it sought to get users to agree to the sharing of information with the social network, although with an option to opt out of the move.
Other alternative messaging services, including Signal and Telegram, are available to users.
The Irish arm of WhatsApp last year set aside €77.5 million to cover possible fees linked to an investigation undertaken by the Data Protection Commissioner into the sharing of data by the platform with its parent.
The commission last year submitted its preliminary decision to WhatsApp Ireland with a a final verdict expected to be announced shortly.
Facebook co-founder Brian Acton, who has been critical of Facebook in recent years, admitted to selling his users’ privacy when he sold the company to the social network.
“I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit,” Mr Acton told Forbes in November 2018. “I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”
Mr Acton left Facebook in 2017, before his stock fully vested in a move that cost him an estimated $850 million.