News analysis

WhatsApp status messages
WhatsApp status updates as of 19 February 2021.
  • WhatsApp has a new approach to communicating with its users, after a disastrous ultimatum that they accept a new privacy policy or lose their accounts.
  • The platform is now posting status updates of its own directly in users' streams, for now punting a commitment to privacy.
  • It will also be popping up nag banners, so "people can read at their own pace" about its new policy.
  • At the same time it has some pointed comments about its competition.
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WhatsApp now treats itself like one of your contacts, sliding messages directly into the "status" section of the app, typically used to broadcast photos and captions to friends.

For now, WhatsApp's own WhatsApp status talks to its commitment to privacy, stressing that nothing has changed – after a disastrous attempt to force adoption of a new privacy policy.

In future, the company says, it will use such status updates to talk about new features and updates, as well as "our values".

The status updates are part of a new approach to communication the Facebook-owned platform announced this week, with two major prongs: talking directly to its users, and talking down the competition.

"We’ll be doing much more to make our voice clear going forward," WhatsApp says.

It has also adopted a far softer tone to the one it struck previously, when it bluntly told users that they could either accept new terms and conditions, or lose access to their accounts on February 8. It initially extended that deadline into May. Now it plans to pop up nagging banners, on the main chat page of the app, to talk about that privacy update.

"In the coming weeks, we’ll display a banner in WhatsApp providing more information that people can read at their own pace," it said in a blog post.

"Eventually, we’ll start reminding people to review and accept these updates to keep using WhatsApp."

A preview of the notifications shows that instead of presenting users directly with a new policy and asking them to agree, WhatsApp will frame it broadly – with a focus on privacy – then provide the option to agree without reading the actual policy document.

The notifications WhatsApp plans

The new privacy policy is in preparation for more, paid-for WhatsApp services aimed at businesses that want to talk to customers using the platform, and is more tightly integrating messaging between companies and consumers with Facebook Shopping. WhatsApp is now subtly linking such services to the sustainability of its service.

"We also think it’s important people know how we can provide WhatsApp for free," it said on Wednesday.

That hooks into none-too-subtle criticism of competitors – which WhatsApp does not name – which do not have such commercial ambitions.

"We’ve seen some of our competitors try to get away with claiming they can’t see people’s messages - if an app doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default that means they can read your messages," WhatsApp said. "Other apps say they’re better because they know even less information than WhatsApp. We believe people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe, even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data."

Rival app Signal had a major outage in mid-January amid a massive influx of disillusioned WhatsApp users. 

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