WhatsApp or Signal – We analyse the terms

WhatsApp or Signal – We analyse the terms 1920 2400 Stephens Scown
Image of Whatsapp on a mobile

For many, WhatsApp has become the “go-to” messaging app for all walks of life, whether that’s between friends or for business use. But another player is on the rise – Signal. So, how do they compare?

With Facebook’s well publicised acquisition of WhatsApp, questions have been raised regarding how this might change the experience of the platform. As with any messaging services, users will be keen to understand key implications around privacy and security.

WhatsApp is not the only messaging app out there but for many it is the most prominent.

Another prominent messaging app which appears to be raising its profile is Signal, a messaging app which sells itself on the basis of its privacy standards.

This article compares the terms and conditions and policies of the two apps.

Our role here is not to put you off using a particular app but to help you understand how the terms for each app apply to you. This can be helpful in understanding when and how to best make use of an online platform.

Please note that these terms are subject to change. This article is based on the terms and policies as of 24 April 2020. This is not legal advice. This article does not comment on all of the terms for each app and users should ensure they have read and understood any terms before signing up for any platform.

The Terms of Service

As you might expect, as both apps are designed to do essentially the same job, i.e. the sending and receiving of digital messages, their terms of service are not too dissimilar.

Termination

Both allow you to end your agreement to their terms at any point, simply by deleting the app. Both may also suspend or terminate your access to the app at their discretion.

Interestingly, within their terms, WhatsApp offers an exhaustive list of when this may be, whereas Signal reserves the right to terminate your use at any time, for any reason and with no suggestion that any notice would be provided. Practically, this could mean that your access to the Signal platform could be revoked at any time.

Licence

Your licence, when using the Signal app is simple insofar as you receive a licence to use their services.

In contrast, WhatsApp indicate that, by agreeing to their terms, you agree to grant them a licence to use, reproduce and distribute any content which is uploaded to their platform. There is an attempt to caveat this by explaining it is merely to provide their services, however such a clause must be taken into consideration, particularly where confidential information or documents are shared.

Assignment

WhatsApp also offers more caveats to their terms, in particular when it comes to their rights and obligations. By agreeing to the WhatsApp terms, you also agree to allow them to assign all of their rights and obligations to any of their affiliates – as the company is owned by Facebook, this could be any number of different companies.

Privacy Policy

Signal

The Signal privacy policy is brief. It provides assurances that their platform is end-to-end encrypted; that the data and messages shared are only accessible by the sender and recipient; and that your data will only be shared with third parties for the provision of their services, or if you use it in connection with third parties such as YouTube.

What it does not indicate is where in the world the data it retains about you will be stored, only providing that it will be stored on their servers. Whilst the benefit of using Signal is that messages can be erased automatically after a period of time, it does not allude to how the rest of the data it holds on you is to be treated.

This should act as a subtle “red flag” to anyone who is considering using it.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy is the complete opposite: comprehensive to the point at which it may be confusing to many.

Your use of the app will provide WhatsApp with numerous amounts of personal data, not only your name and phone number, but also your location, your browser history and even access to your contacts. As explained above, all of this data may then be shared with any company they are affiliated with, without providing notice to you that such sharing is happening.

It is worth highlighting the point about contacts above. Will all of the contacts stored on your phone have consented to you sharing their contact details in this way?

As with Signal, the information you share through WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted and therefore should not be accessible by WhatsApp or any third parties and it also does not store your messages. There is, however, also no certainty provided with regards to where your personal data will be stored; instead it explains that it may be processed and stored all around the world.

Final Assessment

The simple conclusion to draw is that, if you are going to use either app, you should consider the implications of each and assess what impact the terms will have on your objectives, in other words, whether they are the right tool for the job you have in mind.

Businesses will need to conduct the usual GDPR ground work before using either tool, for example, conducting a privacy Impact Assessment, communicating with Data Subjects etc.

As with many online platforms and tools, the work required to enable an organisation to use tools such as these in compliance with GDPR should not be underestimated.

About the author

Stephens Scown

An award-winning employee owned law firm passionate about the South West. Stephen Scown helps businesses and individuals to solve problems and seize opportunities.

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