When Facebook announced back in February that they’d be acquiring popular messaging service WhatsApp for $16 billion in cash and stock, there was a fair number of users worried about what this buyout would mean for their privacy. After all, Facebook have the best reputation when it comes to user privacy.
Earlier this month, 2 privacy advocate groups — The Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Center for Digital Democracy — filed a formal complaint with the FTC, asking them to halt the sale of WhatsApp pending an investigation. The complaint argued that Facebook’s ever changing privacy policies would end up conflicting with WhatsApp’s strong pro-privacy stance. Facebook, on the other hand, maintained that the 2 companies would continue operating separately from one another (something mentioned in the original press release), with WhatsApp honoring commitments to privacy and security.
But it was last week that WhatsApp once again came under fire after an alleged “security flaw” was discovered in the app. The vulnerability made it possible for other malicious applications to read WhatsApp messages backed up to a user’s SD card (this was an option provided in the app). WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum shrugged off the security flaw, urging users to only download legitimate applications from the Google Play Store, while mentioning that his company essentially has no control over viruses and malware. Unfortunately for WhatsApp, privacy concerns continued to snowball around the net.
It’s this reason WhatsApp is once again addressing these concerns with a post made on their company blog today to “set the record straight,” once and for all. CEO Jan Koum provides users with insight on exactly what made him such a privacy nut, giving his own personal account of his life in USSR, specifically about how he and his mother were forced to restrict phone conversations over fears of KGB eavesdropping. It’s because of this, Koum says, he moved to the US in the first place, and the reason why privacy is “coded into” WhatsApp’s DNA.
When it comes to data collection, he goes onto to note how WhatsApp really knows very little about the millions of users who’ve downloaded the app. Unlike a host of other applications found in app markets across iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, WhatsApp doesn’t require names or email addresses, has no idea where you live, what you “like,” and/or what you’re searching for on the internet. It’s a valid point, and one Koum says he has no plans on changing.
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