The new controversy began in recent days as users were asked to agree to new privacy terms or find themselves kicked off the site. While the new rules are not thought to bring with them any major change in the way data is shared with Facebook – which has happened for some time, and which does not include the content of WhatsApp conversations – they have nonetheless led to a discussion of whether staying on WhatsApp is a good idea when it is so closely linked to its parent company.
That has led to a flurry of interest in other apps that offer the same messaging tools, protected conversations and group chat features. Signal, for instance, said that it was getting so many signups that its systems were being overloaded, while Telegram said that new users had risen by 500 per cent.
Joining those competing apps is relatively easy: you can download the app and get started straight away, using just your phone number.
But leaving WhatsApp, should you choose to take that step, is much more difficult. It requires inconveniencing both yourself and your friends, and losing access to what among other things is probably a big archive of conversations and contacts.
Probably the most important and least straightforward thing to do before leaving is not technological, but social. You will probably want to make sure that everyone knows that you’re leaving, and where you’re leaving to, so that it doesn’t look like you have just disappeared.
The easiest way to do this is probably using WhatsApp’s “broadcast” feature, which can be used to send a message to multiple people at once. On iPhone that is found by clicking “broadcast lists” at the top of the chat screen and on Android you can click the three dots or “more options” button where you’ll find the “new broadcast” option.
It might be worth including where they might be able to get hold of you in the future. Most of WhatsApp’s competitors – such as Telegram and Signal – also use phone numbers to find people, so if they have you added on WhatsApp they should be able to find you relatively easily elsewhere, too.
You’ll then probably want to get a copy of all of your data, just so that you have it for the future. WhatsApp offers two ways of doing this: a download of your account information, and your chat history.
The first is fairly straightforward, though probably doesn’t contain all that much that you want to keep, just the data the company collects such as your account information and settings. To get that, head to the settings, click account, and then press request account info – you’ll then be sent a WhatsApp notification when your report is ready, which could take three days.
The second is the history of any chats you might want to preserve, which has to be done individually for each conversation. The entire history of any particular chat can be exported by heading to the chat itself, clicking on the name to get to the group options, and scrolling down to the export button – you’ll be given the option to send yourself an email which includes the conversation as a text file, and choose whether you’d like to have media attached too.
With that, you’ll be ready to actually get onto the big step: deleting WhatsApp, and deleting your account.
This is the only bit of this process that is irrevocable. Once you delete your account, it takes with it all of your message history, your groups, and everything else – and there is no way of getting it back.
To do it, open WhatsApp, click to settings, choose “account” and there should be an option to “delete my account”. Click on that and you will be asked to explain why you’re deleting and then get the option to “DELETE MY ACCOUNT”.
If you press that, the deletion will start, and there is no way to undo it or get access to the account. While the full deletion takes up to 90 days, WhatsApp says, you won’t be able to get the information even during that period.
Deleting your account in this way also removes the information that has been shared with other Facebook companies, WhatsApp says.
WhatsApp does not that this doesn’t necessarily get rid of all of your information. Some records might stay in its database but be removed from “personal identifiers”, it says, and information could be held onto “for things like legal issues, terms violations, or harm prevention efforts”.
Your messages will stick around too, WhatsApp says, so your conversations won’t suddenly empty on other people’s phones; any information that exists on other people’s devices will stick around.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies