San Francisco: Global messaging service WhatsApp says it will start sharing the phone numbers of its users with Facebook, its parent company. That means WhatsApp users could soon start seeing more targeted ads and Facebook friend suggestions on Facebook based on WhatsApp information although not on the messaging service itself.
The move is a subtle but significant shift for WhatsApp, used by more than 1 billion people around the world. When it was acquired by Facebook for an eye-popping USD 21.8 billion two years ago, executives promised privacy would be safeguarded.
“This is a strong-arm tactic on the part of Facebook,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington, DC “They continue on a campaign on to run roughshod on our privacy rights.”
WhatsApp is giving users a limited time to opt out of sharing their information with Facebook, although they must take the extra step of unchecking a box to do so. It also says Facebook won’t post phone numbers online or give them out to anyone.
But the giant social network has been looking for ways to make money from WhatsApp since it bought the service two years ago. At the same time, Facebook has pledged not to interfere with a longstanding promise by WhatsApp’s co-founders to respect users’ privacy and keep ads off its messaging platform.
One change follows through on previous hints by WhatsApp executives, who have said they’re exploring ways for businesses to communicate with customers on WhatsApp. That could include using WhatsApp to provide receipts, confirm a reservation or update the status of a delivery.
Companies could also send marketing offers or messages about sales to individual customers, according to the new documents, which note that users will be able to control or block such messages. WhatsApp says it will continue to bar traditional display ads from its service.
“We do not want you to have a spammy experience,” the company tells users in a summary of the new policies. Another change is potentially more controversial: WhatsApp says it will begin “coordinating” accounts with Facebook by sharing WhatsApp users’ mobile phone numbers and device information, such as the type of operating system and other smartphone characteristics.
The company says Facebook will employ the phone number internally to better identify WhatsApp users on Facebook, so it can make friend suggestions or show targeted advertising.