The recent buy-out of WhatsApp by Facebook for $19 billion inevitably raised doubts among users now wondering if this would also mean compromising their data and privacy. After all, users have every right to be raising eyebrows given the social media giant's reputation of questionable and ever-changing privacy principles and a business model that works around collecting and sharing user data.
The multi-billion deal triggered privacy concerns with advocacy groups filing formal complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this month. The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy said in a complaint that the ever-changing privacy policies of Facebook would end up in conflict with WhatsApp's solid pro-privacy position. Said advocate groups asked FTC to stop the sale of WhatsApp awaiting an investigation.
On Monday, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum dispelled such rumors in a blog post.
"Speculation to the contrary isn't just baseless and unfounded, it's irresponsible. It has the effect of scaring people into thinking we're suddenly collecting all kinds of new data. That's just not true, and it's important to us that you know that," he said.
To explain where he's coming from, the CEO said he values the "principle of private communication," having grown up in the 1980s in the USSR where communication was not without fear of monitoring by the KGB.
"Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don't have to give us your name and we don't ask for your email address. We don't know your birthday. We don't know your home address. We don't know where you work. We don't know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that," he also wrote. He added that the partnership with Facebook would allow them "to continue operating independently and autonomously."
Facebook also maintained its position that both companies would continue to operate separately, and that WhatsApp would continue to honor its commitments to privacy and security.
WhatsApp, however, came under fire again after discovery of an alleged "security flaw" that allowed other malicious applications to read its messages backed up to an SD card of the user. Koum simply shrugged off the alleged vulnerability and said that his company doesn't have control over malware and viruses. He instead advised users to only allow downloads of legitimate applications from the Google Play Store.