Some WhatsApp’s users were under the impression that Facebook would have access to private chats in the future as a result of the update of WhatsApp’s private policy. WhatsApp has repeatedly assured users that their data is safe/Photo: WhatsApp

Germany stops Facebook from gathering WhatsApp data of users

A German privacy regulator banned Facebook on Tuesday from gathering data on WhatsApp users, citing an update to its privacy policy that breaches EU data protection rules by allowing access to a lot more information on the messenger app’s users.

The Hamburg data protection officer (Landesdatenschutzbeauftragter), Johannes Caspar, wants to ensure by order that no data from the chat service will be used by WhatsApp’s corporate parent company Facebook even after the upcoming change of WhatsApp rules.

WhatsApp users were confronted “with non-transparent conditions for far-reaching data transfer,” the regulator said.

Caspar can only issue an order for a period of three months because the Irish data protection authority is generally responsible for Facebook in Europe, say analysts. However, he wants to involve the European Data Protection Committee (EDSA) during this period in order to bring about a decision at the European level, he announced on Tuesday.

WhatsApp denied the update is connected with any expansion of data-sharing with Facebook.

As from 15 May, WhatsApp’s new terms and conditions will apply. There have been many misunderstandings and fears about the changes. Critics warn of new possibilities for data exchange with the parent company Facebook.

At the beginning of January, WhatsApp announced that new terms and conditions would soon apply to all users. The media reports were followed by outrage as many users switched to other messengers. Some were under the impression that WhatsApp would have access to private chats in the future.

WhatsApp keeps repeating that the update does not provide for any extended data transfer to Facebook. This applies above all to users in the EU. Outside the EU, some WhatsApp user data has already been flowing to Facebook since 2016, for example, for advertising purposes.

Facing a pushback about Facebook data sharing and lack of clarity, WhatsApp postponed the implementation of the privacy policy update scheduled from 8 February 2021 to 15 May 2021.

The current changes, however, are primarily about creating better opportunities for communication with businesses, WhatsApp says. To this end, WhatsApp itself emphasised that messaging with businesses is designed differently as with family or friends. “When you communicate with a business via phone, email or WhatsApp, they can use the information from those interactions with you for their own marketing purposes. This may include advertising on Facebook,” it said in a statement.

WhatsApp Messenger, or simply WhatsApp, became the world’s most popular messaging application in 2015 and has over 2 billion users worldwide as of February 2020.

Felix Dappah

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