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WhatsApp Ready To Give Marketers Your Data; Promises 'No Spam'

Two years after being acquired by Facebook, the messaging service WhatsApp said it will coordinate more with its parent company to make it easier for businesses to communicate with its users. However, WhatsApp said it’s rolling out those changes in a way that doesn’t expose users to third-party banner ads and spam.

WhatsApp revealed the coming changes in a blog post today centered around updating its terms and privacy policy for users. It said those updates are needed to begin testing messaging features from businesses over the next several months.

Some WhatsApp users had expressed concerns about Facebook’s impact on their services after the acquisition was announced in early 2014. At that time, WhatsApp co-founder and CEO Jan Koum tried to alleviate those concerns. In a March 2014 blog post he noted that the new partnership with Facebook wouldn’t change his company’s fundamental belief in user privacy.

Option To Not Share Info with Facebook

“[B]y coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp,” the company said in today’s blog post. “And 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.”

Now that the company is “part of the Facebook family,” the two organizations will work together to improve their services, fight spam across apps, make product suggestions and show “relevant offers and ads,” according to WhatsApp’s updated user terms. Additionally, existing WhatsApp users can choose not to have their account information shared with Facebook if they accept the updated terms and privacy policy and then update their account settings.

“Nothing you share on WhatsApp, including your messages, photos, and account information, will be shared onto Facebook or any of our other family of apps for others to see, and nothing you post on those apps will be shared on WhatsApp for others to see,” the updated terms stated. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption ensures that neither the company nor third parties can read users’ messages, and that messages aren’t stored after they’ve been delivered, according to the new terms.

Announcement Prompts Tweetstorm

Koum has long emphasized his belief in the “principle of private communication.” WhatsApp has repeatedly noted, “respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA.” However, the company stated in today’s blog post that by connecting users’ phone numbers with Facebook’s systems, it can improve some services and show users “more relevant” advertising.

“We will explore ways for you and businesses to communicate with each other using WhatsApp, such as through order, transaction, and appointment information, delivery and shipping notifications, product and service updates, and marketing,” WhatsApp’s new terms stated. “For example, you may receive flight status information for upcoming travel, a receipt for something you purchased, or a notification when a delivery will be made.”

While the update noted that WhatsApp does “not want you to have a spammy experience,” a number of users took to social media sites like Twitter to complain about the upcoming changes. Several hundred new comments about the WhatsApp news were being posted every few minutes on Twitter earlier today.

“[S]o facebook is about get phone numbers from a billion people, give or take. but nbd!” CNN tech writer Seth Fiegerman tweeted. “[A]nd there goes your privacy. You knew it was inevitable: WhatsApp gives in to Facebook,” added Twitter user, Jim St. Leger.

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