Word that WhatsApp was now relinquishing user data to its parent company quickly spread, causing users to jump on other encrypted messaging services like Telegram and Signal which flew to the top of app store charts.
WhatsApp's PR machine jumped into gear to address the "rumours going around" and assure its users that their messages aren't being read (thanks to end-to-end encryption), their calls aren't being logged, and their contacts aren't being shared with Facebook.
"We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way," WhatsApp said.
So what changed?
The new policy – which users were prompted to accept through a pop-up when opening the app – removes a paragraph mentioning how users could opt out of having WhatsApp information shared with Facebook.
That policy gave existing WhatsApp users only 30 days after accepting the changes to opt-out of sharing their data with Facebook back in 2016.
If you didn't opt out in time, or signed up after the short grace period, your information has already been shuffled off to Facebook servers.
While that may not include private messages and images you send to friends and family, it means a raft of other data about you has been harvested by Facebook.
We want to address some rumors and be 100% clear we continue to protect your private messages with end-to-end encryption. pic.twitter.com/6qDnzQ98MP— WhatsApp (@WhatsApp) January 12, 2021
Aside from information you willingly provide – such as profile name, phone number, and anything related to payments facilitated through the app – WhatsApp is constantly collecting data relating to your device and, crucially, when you use WhatsApp, why, and for how long.
This data can be invaluable for companies that want to better understand personalities of their userbase to target commercial activity or keep them logged in.
Formal research has already tried to establish relationships between social media use and the Big Five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.
The suggestion is that features of your personality can be gleamed not just by what you watch, read, say, and engage with online but simply by how you interact with the internet.
If you want to see exactly what kind of data WhatsApp has gathered on you, go to your account settings in the app and hit 'request account info'. It may take a couple of days for WhatsApp to prepare your data.