WhatsApp sharing data with Facebook – What does it mean?


In August, WhatsApp users met with a shock when the app’s Terms and Conditions of data usage was changed to be shared with its parent company – Facebook. That means your phone number may henceforth be used by Facebook for various purposes. This created lots of aha-aha s among the public. Message forwards asking to unchecked the option immediately were sent across groups and personal chats; I believe most of us would have made that change as well!

Today, let’s quickly think about what these changes mean to a marketer as well as the end user?

Facebook Ad Targeting

Most of the online shopping websites ask you to register yourself when making a purchase. People tend to go ahead and register using their personal email accounts. This email id could be used or shared by advertising vendors for re targeting and for other audience based offerings. People generally have a notion that email id can be shared, whereas phone numbers should be extremely personal and should not be shared.

I am sure, you would have come across a plethora of Facebook based apps that uses your Facebook shared details to figure out fun aspects like “find out who is your best friend” and then once you click on the link, it would say your best buddy s name and you are fascinated and share the result in FB saying “Facebook knows who my best buddy is”. This is actually done using your own data, your own conversations and the photos you post and people you tag. Without knowing this, you tend to think Facebook has the answer to this question. Does this mean Facebook is intelligent? No the answer is that Facebook/Apps in FB are intelligent enough to collect data from your page and it does that with various means and modes.

I am sure, plenty of analytics goes on at Facebook to find the active users, who are connected to whom, what kind of discussions are going on etc. It might even track the personal messages that you sent a person using messenger. So which is more dangerous email id /phone no? Lets leave the topic of which is more dangerous; but both opens a gamut of advertising opportunities for the marketer.

Connecting better ‘personally-identifiable’ IDs

WhatsApp uses the phone number as the key. But it is installed in mobiles which has your mail, Facebook etc. and captures your email id as well. Now there is a one to one link from your mobile to email platform /social media platform/any other platform that you use with the given email id. This opens to a wonderful world of better customized ads which is more relevant contextually and behaviorally.

There won’t be any wonder if Facebook comes and says “hey your phone contact xxx has brought this product recently from Amazon. Would you like to buy that?” which reveals xxx has brought a product from Amazon and as a friend you will be curious as to see what product she has brought and more likely that you also might end up liking the product.

Now once you have opened the page and viewed, Facebook may use it again for re targeting and finally after many more ad exposure, you may even place an order!!They can even find your WhatsApp groups and suppose there is a ladies group can sent personalized adds on Facebook to everyone in that group about a dress /jewelry and say “hey guys your friend has brought this .why not you?”

Possible identity theft?

One of the specialties of WhatsApp when it launched; was the user-friendly privacy agreements. Though Facebook has mentioned it won’t share users’ mobile numbers; it is an open debate how much personally identifiable information will be shared in advertising products. It may also increase more opportunities of phishing.

Taking end users’ side

Considering these, the opening up linkage between mobile numbers with other IDs can open up a plethora of new advertising offerings in near future; the onus of securing your personally identifiable IDs lies with us. Considering social media platforms are too engrained in today’s life, the following notes could prevent ourselves from being overly targeted

  • Reading the privacy statements at least quickly to understand what level of privacy information is going to be used by the platform is key
  • Separating out personal ids and transactional ids may be a good idea. Considering Email applications can integrate multiple mail IDs, it doesn’t create a big headache to track all emails
  • Block WhatsApp from sharing the details to Facebook
  • Optimal use of browser caching

What do you think about WhatsApp data being shared with Facebook…are you worried?

About Aparna Ramakrishnan 1 Article
Aparna Ramakrishnan is a Software Engineer with five years of industry experience in Business Intelligence and Digital Marketing domains

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