askST: Can WhatsApp and Facebook read my messages or listen in to my calls?

WhatsApp does not share a user's contacts lists with other apps from Facebook. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - On Tuesday (Jan 12), messaging app WhatsApp clarified the changes to its terms and privacy policy that kick in on Feb 8. This is what it said, and more.

Q: What is the purpose of the WhatsApp changes that kick in on Feb 8?

A: WhatsApp said the updates are for instances in which consumers use WhatsApp to contact and message merchants. Consumers can choose not to contact businesses in this way. The updates do not affect the privacy of users when they message friends or family on WhatsApp.

Users who do not agree to the changes will have to stop using WhatsApp.

Q: Can WhatsApp and Facebook read my messages and listen in to my calls over WhatsApp between friends, family and colleagues?

A: No. This is because personal messages are protected by end-to-end encryption and WhatsApp assured users that "we will never weaken this security and we clearly label each chat so you know our commitment".

Q: Can WhatsApp and Facebook see my location when I share it on WhatsApp?

A: No. A user's location is protected by end-to-end encryption, so no one can see the location except the people it was shared with.

Q: Does WhatsApp keep tabs on who I message or call on the app?

A: No. WhatsApp said it does not keep such logs, though mobile carriers and operators traditionally store this information.

"We believe that keeping these records for 2 billion users would be both a privacy and security risk and we don't do it," it said.

Q: Will WhatsApp share my contacts with Facebook?

A: No. WhatsApp does not share a user's contacts lists with other apps from Facebook. But when a user gives it permission, WhatsApp accesses only the phone numbers from the address book to make messaging fast and reliable.

Q: Are my WhatsApp message groups private?

A: Yes. WhatsApp uses information on who is in the group to deliver messages and to protect its service from spam and abuse. "We don't share this data with Facebook for ads purposes," it said.

Q: Can I contact businesses through WhatsApp?

A: Yes. Some companies can choose to securely store WhatsApp chats with consumers on Facebook's servers to manage the encrypted messages, answer questions, and send information like receipts for what consumers bought.

When users try to chat with a business on the app, WhatsApp will clearly label conversations with businesses that choose to use Facebook's servers to store chats.

Facebook will not automatically use a user's messages to determine the ads he sees. But a merchant can use the info for marketing purposes, which may include advertising on Facebook.

Remote video URL

Facebook cannot send general ads in a similar way to these consumers and still cannot read the messages, and neither can WhatsApp. Also, WhatsApp has no ads, for now.

But shopping activity within WhatsApp, such as a user browsing items a merchant offers on WhatsApp, can personalise a user's ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Merchants can choose to send promotions and offers to customers through WhatsApp. But if a consumer keeps getting such messages that he does not want, he can report the business and block it. WhatsApp can investigate reported merchants and take action.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.