Facebook got another scandal when it tried to impose new data privacy rules on WhatsApp chat room users. Although Facebook's target was only data about WhatsApp users communications with commercial firms, not personal communication, the chat room was abruptly abandoned by a huge number of users.
Facebook faced new challenges in 2021, on top of ongoing antitrust investigations by US and European authorities over its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.
The first challenge was the use of Facebook platforms by Donald Trump supporters involved in the storming of the Capitol, which ended in the deaths of five people. Facebook and Twitter blocked the US president's account, causing serious public controversy.
Another crisis occurred on WhatsApp, when the announcement of new data privacy rules was followed by a sharp exodus of its users to other platforms. In early January, WhatsApp users received an alert about the new rules, acceptance of which was followed by consent to share some personal data with Facebook. If they refuse to accept the terms by 8 February, such users' account will be blocked.
According to WhatsApp, the new rules were misinterpreted as they dealt solely with users communication data with commercial firms and did not affect personal conversations, which would still be end-to-end encrypted.
As a result, WhatsApp had to scrap the innovation last week, setting a new launch date for the business tools of 15 May.
Facebook shares, up 13.3% over the past 12 months, are down 9.3% since the start of 2021.
According to analyst firms, WhatsApp has lost a significant portion of its audience to rival apps such as Signal and Telegram. Signal, often used in journalistic circles, was the most downloaded free app on Apple and Android devices. In the week from January 4, the number of downloads of the Signal app reached 8.8 million an increase of almost 4,000% compared to the week before.
Last week, in an effort to stem the churn of WhatsApp users in India, the largest market in terms of active monthly users (more than 450 million), the company placed full-page articles in several Indian newspapers with the headline "WhatsApp respects and protects your privacy".