WhatsApp's New Update Is So Privacy-Preserving, Even Facebook Won't Say What It Is

Illustration for article titled WhatsApps New Update Is So Privacy-Preserving, Even Facebook Wont Say What It Is
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There’s a lot we don’t really know about Facebook. Why is the company always beefing with Apple? Is CEO Mark Zuckerberg actually unsettlingly thicc, or are we just catching him at weird angles? And in the latest stumper thrown in our direction, we also have to ask: What’s the deal with that cryptic blank blog post they put up today?

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While the post now directs to a 404, for about a half-hour this morning, the company’s corporate was topped by a blank post simply titled, “Privacy Matters: Making It Easier To Manage Business Conversations On WhatsApp.”

These sorts of “Privacy Matters” posts are a part of the company’s recent efforts to patch up its public image, both in the eyes of regulators and the rest of us. Recent Facebook announcements under this tag seem to center around the company listing off all the ways new products under the Facebook umbrella aren’t as nefarious as they seem.

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Here’s a timely example: Earlier today, Facebook finally rolled out Facebook Dating across the EU market after a nine-month delay that was largely caused by the hesitation of regional regulators who surmised that anything called “Facebook Dating” couldn’t possibly comply with GDPR, Europe’s landmark privacy law.

As part of the new product, the company also put out a Privacy Matters post letting us know that while Dating is mainly built to share data with advertisers, it’s also built to be a “[safe] and authentic” experience. Other notable examples of posts under the Privacy Matters umbrella include promises that Facebook can be trusted with your precise location data and your medical history.

Ostensibly, the latest post was going to revolve around why you should feel safe using WhatsApp to buy anything from groceries to clothes to cosmetics, even though it’s an app that most of us associate with family group chats.

When we asked Facebook about said Mystery Post, company spokesperson Andy Stone simply quipped that it was part of Facebook’s “new strategy.”

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Stone was almost certainly joking here, tech privacy issues deserve grave seriousness. So if we’re assuming that these sorts of enigmatic posts are, in fact, a part of the company’s corporate strategy, then it could mean a few things:

  • That privacy matters so much to the company that it won’t even tell the press about its stance on the topic.
  • That privacy matters so little to the company that it doesn’t feel the need to tell the press about its stance on the topic.
  • That Facebook feels the only private conversation—on WhatsApp, on Instagram, or on Facebook proper—is no conversation at all.
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We’ll be on the lookout for the post in case it re-emerges anytime soon. (We’re guessing it was just published in error.) But the objectively smarter move on Facebook’s part is to let these paper-thin privacy posts wither and die.

I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

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DISCUSSION

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I’m a little surprised anyone actually trusts Facebook to be real with WhatsApp’s privacy. I’ve been hearing about privacy issues with it literally since the beginning, and now it’s owned and operated by the biggest threat to personal privacy maybe ever?

What are so independent alternatives to WhatsApp that don’t make me support an infosec nightmare like Facebook?