The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has recently informed Facebook to cease and desist its present collection of user’s data from WhatsApp in Germany after the messaging app updated its privacy terms last month and started allowing information sharing with Facebook.
The German regulators expressed fears that the policy changes may infringe on the privacy of WhatsApp users by giving its parent company access to phone numbers, as well as information about their phones and operating systems. Thus, in response to the growing concerns of both the German public and government leadership, the Hamburg Commissioner has ordered Facebook to stop collecting data from WhatsApp and to delete all information previously gathered and transferred from WhatsApp to the social media Facebook.
For this form of privacy to be altered will need the complete consent of all 35 million WhatsApp users, especially in Germany, and whether they want their account connected to Facebook. The social media giant has to ask permission for this in advance and so far this hasn’t happened, not even in Germany. This is according to Johannes Caspar, the data protection commissioner for Hamburg.
WhatsApp Messenger is a proprietary, cross-platform, and encrypted instant messaging client for smartphones. It uses the internet to send text messages, documents, images, video, user location and audio messages to other users using standard cellular mobile numbers. As of February 2016, WhatsApp has a user base of one billion. WhatsApp Inc., based in Mountain View, California, USA, was acquired by Facebook last February 19, 2014, for $19.3 billion.
Part of the deal for the purchase came with an assurance from both companies that they wouldn’t share any data with their users. To the commissioners and German government, however, the recent amendment that lets WhatsApp share user information and analytics on Facebook is a violation of that promise.
For the Hamburg Commissioner, this constitutes “misleading infringement on Germany’s data protection law” as well as to WhatsApp’s millions of users. Also, Facebook never acquired any form of legal permission to collect the information. When WhatsApp is downloaded, the app asks users for permission to access their contacts so they can start conversations with people they know. This automatically allows the app to see the names and numbers of all contacts, even those who don’t use WhatsApp.
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Traditionally, Facebook does not have access to this volume of information. The recent acquisition of this volume of information has baffled many experts around the world, and with Facebook acknowledging this fact, this has raised many concerns that this data protection breach will have a more severe impact.
Similarly, the US Federal Trade Commission recently gave warning to WhatsApp and Facebook of this apparent violation of its guidelines as mandated in the purchase. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office also said that it was “investigating the matter.” But on the other side, Facebook plans to appeal the decision of the Hamburg watchdogs. According to a Facebook spokesperson, “Facebook complies with EU data protection law. The order will be appealed and we will work with Hamburg DPA to address their questions and resolve the issues.”