Facebook and WhatsApp data sharing angers Germany’s Regulator

The German data protection regulator has ordered Facebook to stop collecting user data from its WhatsApp and delete any data it has already received as he wants to protect the privacy of the 35m users of the App in Germany.

WhatsApp is a free downloadable messenger app for smartphones. While it charges for using its services it is much less than texting as it uses the internet to send messages.

The App was acquired by Facebook in 2014 and Facebook pledged not to use the data of the 1 billion users of WhatsApp. However, in August 2016 WhatsApp announced that it would be updating its terms and policies. It would connect users phone number with Facebook  to allow, amongst other things, better friend suggestions and more relevant ads. The problem for the German regulator is that while users were given the option of opting out of the data being used for advertising purposes it did not allow them to opt out of the data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook.

The German Regulator ruled that Facebook neither had obtained an effective approval from the WhatsApp users, nor did a legal basis exist for the data sharing. “Facebook has to ask [WhatsApp users] for their permission in advance”.

The ICO responded to the changed terms and conditions made in August stating “The changes WhatsApp and Facebook are making will affect a lot of people. Some might consider it’ll give them a better service, others may be concerned by the lack of control.

Our role is to pull back the curtain on things like this, ensuring that companies are being transparent with the public about how their personal data is being shared, and protecting consumers by making sure the law is being followed.

We’ve been informed of the changes. Organisations do not need to get prior approval from the ICO to change their approaches, but they do need to stay within data protection laws. We are looking into this”.

It will be interesting to see the ICO’s response to this week’s order given to Facebook by Germany.