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WhatsApp relaxes deadline for accepting its new privacy policy

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You’ll still have to accept it eventually to use the service

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

In a new statement posted on its website, WhatsApp says users won’t lose any functionality if they fail to accept its new privacy policy by May 15th. “No one will have their accounts deleted or lose functionality of WhatsApp on May 15th because of this update,” the FAQ now reads.

That’s different from what the page originally said when it was posted in February, when it warned that failing to accept the new terms by the May deadline would mean users would lose functionality. “We’ve extended the effective date to May 15th,” the page said at the time. “If you haven’t accepted by then, WhatsApp will not delete your account. However, you won’t have full functionality of WhatsApp until you accept. For a short time, you’ll be able to receive calls and notifications, but won’t be able to read or send messages from the app [emphasis added].”

Although WhatsApp has relaxed the deadline for accepting the new policy, it’s still coming into force, sources with knowledge of WhatsApp’s plans confirmed to The Verge. It’ll still be effective from May 15th for new users and for people who’ve already accepted the policy. The difference is that anyone who doesn’t accept the policy now won’t lose full functionality immediately. Instead, they’ll be shown a reminder to accept the new policy.

That’ll change after a period of several weeks when this reminder will become what WhatsApp is referring to as a “persistent reminder.” It’s at this point that the app’s functionality will become limited. Although users will still be able to answer incoming calls and respond to messages by tapping on notifications, they won’t be able to access the standard chat list from within the app. Finally, after a few additional weeks, users will lose this “limited functionality” entirely. WhatsApp says it generally deletes inactive accounts after 120 days.

WhatsApp’s explanation of what “limited functionality” will mean for users.
Image: WhatsApp

“We’ve spent the last several months providing more information about our update to users around the world,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement. “In that time, the majority of people who have received it have accepted the update and WhatsApp continues to grow. However, for those that have not yet had a chance to do so, their accounts will not be deleted or lose functionality on May 15. We’ll continue to provide reminders to those users within WhatsApp in the weeks to come.”

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy has faced fierce backlash over worries that it weakens the chat service’s encryption or allows it to share more of users’ personal data with parent company Facebook. However, the policy doesn’t change the fact that personal messages between users are end-to-end encrypted, meaning only each recipient can read them. Instead, it relates to messages sent to businesses on WhatsApp. These may be stored on Facebook’s servers, and their data may be used for advertising. WhatsApp already shares some user data with Facebook, like phone numbers, and has done so since 2016.

This information hasn’t done much to calm the controversy, which resulted in rival messaging apps Telegram and Signal reporting surges in new users. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk got involved, tweeting “Use Signal” to his millions of followers at the beginning of January. In response to the outcry, WhatsApp said it would delay the introduction of its new privacy policy by three months from February to May.