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Whatsapp reads your phone contacts and is breaking privacy laws

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Whatsapp automatically pulls phone numbers from your address book to find users who may have the app installed, a well known feature of the messaging app. But Canadian and Dutch authorities are just beginning to realize that this practice of seamless contact sharing is an invasion of privacy.

As a messaging app and SMS alternative, pulling in your contact list with a click of a button is convenient. There’s no need to message your friends and find out if they have Whatsapp in the first place, before requesting their user ID. But despite the convenience, The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and the Dutch Protection Authority have published a report on the app’s violation of privacy laws, Reuters reports. The root of the offense stems from the user’s ability to pull in contact information stored on your phone into Whatsapp. What this means is that Whatsapp has been granted access to your friends’ phone numbers without your their permission.

Where Whatsapp crosses the line however is when the authority discovered that Whatsapp stores all phone numbers that the messaging app is granted permission to, including phone numbers of non-users. What the messaging app would do with this data is left up to speculation, although for a company that’s adamant on not selling out and a fervent opposition of advertising, you shouldn’t be concerned with brands getting a hold of your phone number.

“This lack of choice contravenes (Canadian and Dutch) privacy law. Both users and non-users should have control over their personal data and users must be able to freely decide what contact details they wish to share with WhatsApp,” Chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority, Jacob Kohnstamm told Reuters. Address book privacy has been an issue before, most notoriously when it was found that social app Path uploaded your entire contact list – as did a number of other apps. All of them soon changed this function. 

If any further actions are taken, like a lawsuit, Whatsapp could have a privacy debacle on its hands. But the authorities have stated that Whatsapp has been working closely with the authorities based on these aforementioned discoveries and the messaging app is updating its policies and features to protect its user’s privacy. Some of the updates include better encryption of messages and the ability to add contacts manually.

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