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August 25, 2016

WhatsApp to share phone numbers with Facebook in privacy policy shake-up

News: WhatsApp is going to let companies message users.

By Ellie Burns

You could soon be receiving WhatsApp messages from businesses and firms after the messaging app announced a changing of its privacy policy – the first change to its privacy policy since the company was bought by Facebook in 2014.

Opening up a major new revenue stream for parent company Facebook, Whatsapp will allow companies to send messages to customers through the messaging app. In efforts to reassure its customer base, the messaging app reiterated its commitment to end-to-end encryption, saying that it will still have no access to message content. Banner adverts will still not be displayed in the app, though the company did say that they are looking to allow companies to send ‘marketing’ messages.

Announcing the testing of these new business services in the next several months, a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a blog:

“We want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam. Whether it's hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight, many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls. 

This policy shake-up marks the first time that WhatsApp will share data with its parent company Facebook. When Facebook bought WhatsApp for $22bn, many voiced concerns about the possible mining and sharing of data between the two companies.

Due to the new privacy policy, the main app of Facebook will now be allowed to use the phone number which users give to WhatsApp. This will allow marketers and businesses to target ads to users, with the phone number becoming part of a database that can be cross-checked anonymously with the customer list of advertisers. The link-up of data between Whatsapp and Facebook will also have benefits for users:

“By connecting your phone number with Facebook's systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them.”WhatsApp said in the blog post.

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“For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you've never heard of.”

Interestingly, Facebook Messenger is also making a business play with chat bots, a contrast to WhatsApp’s more basic push on the market.

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