Social Media

‘WhatsApp and Facebook can’t read users’ messages’

NandanaJames Mumbai | Updated on January 17, 2021

WILL CATHCART, Global Head, WhatsApp

India remains the centre of focus at WhatsApp and the messaging app will be looking for ways to improve how it communicates values around privacy and security, according to Will Cathcart, Global Head of WhatsApp.

“We want everyone to know how seriously committed we are to the privacy and security of people’s chats. This update (a recent, controversial one) does not affect the privacy of your personal messages with friends and family in any way. We realise the update has caused some confusion and we want to do everything we can to assure our users,” Cathcart told BusinessLine.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on January 4 made known its updated privacy policy which essentially took away the choice users had until then to not share their data with other Facebook-owned and third-party apps, whilst giving February 8 as the deadline for users to accept the new terms or quit WhatsApp. The move was criticised by users and many quit the platform to join rival messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal.

Loss of users

When asked about losing users to rivals, Cathcart said: “We know we have to compete for users’ trust when it comes to privacy. We think competition on privacy is good because it will help make apps even more private and secure in the future.”

Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can read users’ messages or hear their calls, emphasised Cathcard. These personal communications remain end-to-end encrypted, and the update is related to “new features we are building (which) will help businesses interact with their customers about their products right on WhatsApp”, he said. “And we explain how when you use those features information may be shared back with Facebook,” he added.

Cathcart said ads will not be brought to WhatsApp with this update. “The idea is that people want to message a business, whether that’s a local kirana store or to book a train ticket. In the process of doing that, we want to help the business manage their customers’ messages,” he said.

“Privacy is always top-of-mind at WhatsApp and I think that will never change,” Cathcart claimed. “We recognise there has been some confusion over the past week and want to help set the record straight,” he said.

Facebook and WhatsApp have been hauled up in other countries over privacy concerns. On whether WhatsApp will be open to similar scrutiny in India, Cathcart said: “We remain available to answer any question.”

Published on January 17, 2021

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