Hidden WhatsApp beta screens posted last Thursday by Android app developer Javier Santos have revealed that Whatsapp may soon be sharing user data with its parent company Facebook.

The instant messaging service is currently the third most popular app on the Android Play Store in Hong Kong, and the fifth most popular app on Hong Kong’s Apple App Store.

Facebook Whatsapp composite
Photo: HKFP

The new feature allows users to share “share my WhatsApp account information with Facebook, to improve my Facebook experiences,” according to the screenshots.

The sharing feature is currently turned off by default in the beta. Cancelling the option, once sharing has been implemented, currently appears be a once-and-for-all decision.

Beta screen showing data sharing options. Photo: Javier Santos via Google+
Beta screens showing data sharing options. Photo: Javier Santos via Google+

The new beta will also introduce an optional end-to-end encryption into WhatsApp, meaning that no one apart from the sender and receiver will be able to read the messages. Additional features include video calling as well as document support.

When asked about the chances of Facebook peeking into non-end-to-end encrypted messages, Larry Salibra, cybersecurity expert and founder of Pay4Bugs, told HKFP that “Facebook wants to know as much about us as possible so that they can more accurately target ads at us. They have a strong incentive to screen our messages – including whatsapp messages – so they can understand our interests and desires.”

However, it is not known what actual data will be collected from WhatsApp or how Facebook will use it. It is possible that the final product will be different from what is known at this beta stage.

Facebook purchased WhatsApp for US$19 billion in October 2014, but the two services have – thus far – remained largely separate.

chantal yuen

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.