Popular messaging service WhatsApp has announced that it will start sharing user data with parent company Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB).

The move was announced in a press release, and feeds in to a long-running narrative of user privacy. Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) bought WhatsApp in 2014, sparking fears among users of the messaging app that strong privacy features might be diluted. Given that this is one thing that attracted users to WhatsApp in the first place, it was important that the company underline its commitment to user privacy.

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Data sharing with Facebook Inc (FB)

At the time of the takeover WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum spoke out in order to calm the fears. “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible,” he wrote in a blog post.

However this latest move effectively dilutes some of the messaging app’s self-imposed restrictions, and allows a limited amount of user data to be shared with parent company Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB). This data includes users’ phone numbers.

According to WhatsApp this will allow Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) to offer better friend suggestions by amalgamating social connections in the two services. It will also apparently allow for more relevant ads to be shown on your Facebook account. WhatsApp analytics data will also be shared in order to keep track of usage metrics and combat spam.

Businesses may now contact you through WhatsApp

WhatsApp also says that it is looking into how businesses can contact customers using the service. Some example given in the press release are a bank warning someone about a transaction that might be fraudulent, or airlines telling you your flight has been delayed. To test these features changes must be made to the privacy policy.

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has been exploring these uses with Messenger, and WhatsApp said it was considering a similar move earlier this year. WhatsApp maintains that users will have the possibility to “manage these communications” and there will not be any third-party banner ads on the app.

Although the company is defending itself, WhatsApp users are probably going to be a bit miffed about the changes. The appeal of the app is that it is unobtrusive, and allows users to communicate without using their information to drive ads. However the model is unprofitable.

User reaction will be interesting

At the same time WhatsApp has proven its commitment to privacy in court, receiving several temporary bans in Brazil over a refusal to hand over messages. In this latest episode WhatsApp seems keen to head off any criticism, claiming that it still supports end-to-end encryption despite the updates to its privacy policy.

WhatsApp is keen to preempt criticism, and says that although it’s changing its privacy policy, it continues to support end-to-end encryption.

“Even as we coordinate more with Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them,” says the company in a blog post. “Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else. We won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and we still won’t sell, share, or give your phone number to advertisers.”

There will surely be plenty of WhatsApp users hoping that the move isn’t the start of a slippery slope for the app. Privacy remains a huge concern and WhatsApp could find itself losing users to rival apps such as Telegram if users feel that their privacy is being eroded.

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