WhatsApp with chat bubble on smartphone with magnifying glass

What Does WhatsApp Know About Me?

Last edited: June 24, 2019
Reading time: 6 minutes, 4 seconds

WhatsApp was created with the idea of providing a private, secure platform for messaging. Users can message each other with options and benefits beyond what mere text messaging can provide. Most WhatsApp users value the privacy of their messages. They value the confidence they feel in knowing only the intended receivers will know the contents of their conversations. You might be surprised to learn that WhatsApp collects a great deal of information on its users.


WhatsApp’s Connection to Facebook

WhatsApp logoWhatsApp was created with privacy in mind and served its users well for many years. But, in recent years WhatsApp was sold to Facebook. Many people have expressed growing concern over how Facebook collects and uses information. This affects all its services, including WhatsApp.

In an interview published in 2014, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum said, “”And we don’t have to know a lot about our users. To target advertisements well, companies need to know where you are, what you might be doing, who you might be with, what you might like or not like. That’s an insane amount of data.”

Under this philosophy, WhatsApp grew at a rapid pace. This drew the attention of the largest social media platform in the world. WhatsApp’s founders saw their app as a tool to help friends communicate. Facebook saw the possibility for a goldmine of advertising information.

In 2014, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. While Facebook brings in billions of dollars of revenue each quarter, this was still a significant outlay of capital to buy out a competitor. The data gained from WhatsApp makes even this extravagant price a worthy investment.


Basic Data Collected by WhatsApp

WhatsApp will need to collect some basic information to provide service to you. This is customary and expected. WhatsApp has your phone number as it is how you log into the service and connect with others. The app also collects information about who your mobile service provider is. This information might be important in sending and receiving information to your device. WhatsApp also collects information about the type of phone you use and the operating system it is on. The app collects other relevant information about your connection and signal strength. All these might be understandable if collected and used in a responsible way.


Unusual Information Collected by WhatsApp

Above you have been able to read about the general information WhatsApp collects on you. Here you will find a list of some additional things the app tracks.

Habits and Preferences

WhatsApp collects information on when you use the app and how often. Furthermore, the company keeps a record of how long you spend connecting with a particular user, and how you interact with them. This starts to seem a little intrusive. This means the company is tracking whether you are more likely to send a picture or text, and whether you prefer friends that send pictures over texts. Obviously, the app will need to know when you are using the device but keeping a record of usage may begin to feel like an invasion of privacy for many users.

Location

WhatsApp is also tracking your location. Location is determined by analyzing which cell towers your phone is using to connect. WhatsApp also tracks you through nearby Wi-Fi access points and Bluetooth signals. Adjusting your privacy settings keeps your location secret only from contacts. But the app can continue to pinpoint your location through these other means. This is no paranoid conspiracy theory. This is spelled out clearly in the WhatsApp Privacy Policy.

Contacts

WhatsApp also collects contact information for your friends and contacts through the app. While you can choose to add contacts one at a time, most people opt to allow WhatsApp to add their entire contact list at a push of a button. Even if you do not use WhatsApp, one of your friends probably does. WhatsApp may get your contact information through their contact list. Even if you have never used the app, the app may already have your information. This includes your phone number, email, and other contact information through one of your friends’ contact lists.


What WhatsApp Does with this Information

If WhatsApp used the information collected to enhance the user experience, you might not be so concerned over the invasion of privacy. That is not the case, though. While Facebook doesn’t break down its income by product, Forbes estimates WhatsApp will be generating $5 billion per year by 2020. At this point, WhatsApp doesn’t have advertisements in the app. Facebook does use the information generated in the app to enhance its ad targeting profiles. In other words, Facebook is using the information learned about you in the app to sell better ads in its other products.

Facebook takes information about your WhatsApp contacts and compares it with contact information in other Facebook products. This allows the company to learn a great deal about who your contacts are. If the company discovers your WhatsApp contact isn’t on Instagram yet (another app owned by Facebook), they may start seeing ads online, or in one of Facebook’s other services.

Location history may be one of the most valuable sources of information about your life. By tracking your location, WhatsApp can discover a wealth of information about you. This includes where you live, where you work, where you like to shop, and more. If you drop off your children at school on a regular basis, WhatsApp will know this. It then analyzes that data to determine that you have children, and what their approximate ages may be.

If you start visiting a plastic surgeon on a regular basis, WhatsApp can share that information with advertisers. You may then be the target of ads for cosmetic surgery or cosmetics. Visit a reproductive specialist and advertisers will pay good money for the data. They then know that you may need pharmaceuticals for erectile dysfunction, birth control aids, or pregnancy tests. Even while WhatsApp does not directly advertise to you, your data makes advertising more valuable in other services.


You Don’t Have to Be Paranoid to Guard Your Privacy

It’s not unhealthy to be concerned over your privacy online. Given the amount of data that WhatsApp and other companies collect on you, it is hard not to have some genuine concern. The data collected about you reveals much about who you are. Concern over how your data is used and collected is warranted. It is possible to take reasonable precautions to safeguard your privacy without becoming paranoid.

There are simple steps you can take to protect your privacy. One simple method is to restrict the access WhatsApp has to your data. By taking a few minutes to update your privacy settings, you can help keep your information more secure. WhatsApp does provide several tools to help you take charge of your privacy while using the service. Why not take advantage of them?

Another simple step is to make use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This solution creates a barrier between you and the information services you use online. By connecting to a remote server, you help keep your activities online anonymous. Take a few minutes to learn how a VPN can help protect your privacy as well as provide added benefits such as avoiding geographic restrictions to streaming content online.

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