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WhatsApp will make it easier to reject updates to its terms of service

The EU has reached a deal with Meta following the uproar over WhatsApp's privacy policy.

REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

WhatsApp has come to an agreement with the European Union following the controversy over its early 2021 privacy policy change. After discussions with the European Commission and EU consumer protection regulators, WhatsApp will make it easier for users to reject updates to the terms of service. The Meta-owned brand will also "clearly explain" when rejecting those terms will limit use of services, the Commission says. People can also dismiss notifications about these updates, and delay reviewing those updates.

The company further confirmed that it's not sharing personal data with other Meta brands, including Facebook, for the sake of advertising. It also isn't sharing that data with third-parties, the Commission says.

WhatsApp sparked an outcry at the start of 2021 when it asked users to share data like connection info and transactions with sibling brands like Facebook as part of its new privacy policy. While little changed for users, some interpreted this as a sign WhatsApp was sharing messages and calls with Facebook. That prompted a mass exodus to competing secure messaging services like Signal and Telegram. WhatsApp tried to reassure users that it couldn't access the end-to-end encrypted conversations, but the backlash led the company to pause the policy rollout. When it did reintroduce the new terms, it added clarifications but warned that the service would gradually stop working unless users agreed to the terms.

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The European Commission got involved in January last year, when it responded to unfair practice allegations by asking WhatsApp to better explain how it uses people's data. Last June, it also asked WhatsApp to more clearly explain its business model and whether or not it profited from personal data.

We've asked Meta for comment. The Commission's Consumer Protection Cooperation Network plans to "actively monitor" WhatsApp's application of these promises with future policy updates. Any violations could prompt fines and other penalties. The chat giant also isn't the only one facing scrutiny. The Commission says it's continuing to look for "dark patterns," or attempts to unfairly push users into accepting subscriptions, policy changes or other unwanted features. Don't be surprised if there are more agreements like WhatsApp's in the near future.