Facebook Agrees to Suspend Using Whatsapp Users’ Data, UK Privacy Watchdog says

After the U.K. watchdog said consumers weren’t properly protected, Britain’s privacy watchdog said on Monday that Facebook has agreed to suspend using data from UK users of its WhatsApp messaging app for advertisements or product-improvement purposes.

If the social media giant uses such data without valid consent, it faces action, the watchdog said.

After WhatsApp, acquired by Facebook in 2014, said it would share user data with its parent company to better fight spam and improve users’ experiences of both services, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) had said in August that it would monitor WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

Additionally, the European Union’s 28 data protection authorities, last month, requested that WhatsApp pause sharing users’ data with its parent company until the appropriate legal protections could be assured, apart from the threat from the U.K. watchdog.

“We’re pleased that they’ve agreed to pause using data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes. If Facebook starts using the data without valid consent, they may face enforcement action from my office,” the head of the ICO, Elizabeth Denham, said in a statement.

In order to better explaining to customers how their data would be used and to give them ongoing control over that data, Facebook and WhatsApp were asked to sign an undertaking for commitment to that matter, the regulator said. So far, the companies have not agreed.

“We think consumers deserve a greater level of information and protection, but so far Facebook hasn’t agreed,” Denham said.

WhatsApp “designed its privacy policy and terms update to give users a clear and simple explanation of how the service works, as well as choice over how their data is use, a Facebook spokeswoman said.

“These updates comply with applicable law, and follow the latest guidance from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office. We hope to continue our detailed conversations with the ICO and other data protection officials, and we remain open to working collaboratively to address their questions.”

She did not think users had been given enough information about what Facebook would do with their data and that WhatsApp had not obtained valid consent, Denham said.

Several other European privacy watchdogs, such as Spain’s, have said they intend to contact Facebook about WhatsApp’s privacy policy change but have not yet done so.

Before receiving all the others’ questions, it would be inappropriate to agree on a specific solution with one regulator, Facebook suggested.

Enforcement action could ultimately lead to fines. Compared with the revenues of the companies concerned, such fines are small. However, with fines of up to 4 percent of global turnover as a new EU-wide data protection law coming into force in 2018 would change that.

She would keep pushing the issue along with other privacy watchdogs, notably the Irish authority, Denham said. Since the U.S. company’s European headquarters are in Ireland, it has the most sway over Facebook.

Facebook says the data WhatsApp collects is extremely limited and only a part of that is then shared with Facebook.

(Adapted from Reuters)

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Categories: Regulations & Legal

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