Congressional Hispanic Caucus members ask Facebook to reverse WhatsApp terms of service update

Justin Hendrix / May 11, 2021

Congressional Hispanic Caucus members released a letter today calling on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to reverse terms of service updates to messaging platform WhatsApp that they say diminish privacy protections for users. The letter comes ahead of a May 15th deadline for users to accept the updates to continue using the app with full functionality.

“We write to respectfully ask Facebook to consider reversing WhatsApp’s decision to update their new terms of service. We believe Facebook is potentially offering a false choice to users across the globe: accept the sharing of metadata with Facebook by May 15th or leave the platform altogether,” the lawmakers, including Representatives Lori Trahan, Raúl Grijalva, Michael San Nicolas, Veronica Esobar, Darren Soto, Tony Cárdenas, Nydia Velázquez, Jesús “Chuy” García, and Linda Sánchez wrote.

Noting that nearly half of Hispanic Americans use WhatsApp, the lawmakers say it is "challening for US-based Hispanics to switch to other social networks because WhatsApp is the primary way for them to connect with relatives and friends in Latin America where the market has tipped- WhatsApp usage is over 85 percent in Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico."

“We will respond to members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to explain our update. We’ve spent the last several months providing more information about our update to users around the world," said a WhatsApp spokesperson by email. "In that time, the majority of people who have received it have accepted it. This update does not expand WhatsApp’s ability to share data with Facebook. Instead, the update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp if they want to, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. With this update, personal messages continue to be protected by end-to-end encryption."

Other governments are also pushing back on the terms of service change. In Germany, Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, or HmbBfDI, said today that it issued an injunction to prevent Facebook from processing personal data from WhatsApp, reported CNBC. The Italian data protection authority, GPDP, said in January it had contacted the European Data Protection Board about the privacy implications of the changes, according to TechCrunch. And in India, another major WhatsApp market, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology also sent a letter asking WhatsApp to withdraw the new privacy policy.

Facebook delayed the implementation of policy changes in January following user concerns. The company claimed in February that the announcement of its terms of service change was plagued by misinformation. Adweek reports that users who do not accept the update to the terms of service will not immediately lose access- the roll out will be gradual.

Insider reported that the WhatsApp changes drove millions of downloads of alternative applications, including Signal and Telegram. WhatsApp has ~1.6 billion monthly active users globally.


Justin Hendrix
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & ...