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Facebook’s controversial WhatsApp update may be ‘abusive exploitation’ of data, says regulator

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Adam Smith
·2-min read
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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

A German data regulator is attempting to stop Facebook from collecting user data from WhatsApp, due to concerns of an “abusive exploitation of data power”.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information is seeking an “immediately enforceable order”, over fears that Facebook would use the data for marketing purposes and direct advertising, as well as the existing areas of product improvement, analysis, and security.

“WhatsApp is now used by almost 60 million people in Germany and is by far the most widely used social media application, even ahead of Facebook. It is therefore all the more important to ensure that the high number of users, which makes the service attractive to many people, does not lead to an abusive exploitation of data power”, Johannes Caspar, the commissioner, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, up to now there has been no supervisory review of the actual processing operations between WhatsApp and Facebook that we are aware of”, he added.

“Currently, there is reason to believe that the provisions that will enable and expand the sharing of data between WhatsApp and Facebook will be unlawfully enforced due to the lack of voluntary and informed consent."

The commission is seeking to reach a decision before 15 May, when users must either accept Facebook’s privacy policy or stop using WhatsApp. The controversial change was already pushed back once, following an outcry and a mass movement of users to other platforms such as Signal.

“Our recent update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. To be clear, by accepting WhatsApp’s updated terms of service, users are not agreeing to any expansion in our ability to share data with Facebook, and the update does not impact the privacy of their messages with friends or family wherever they are in the world”, a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement.

“Facebook is reviewing the correspondence it has received from the Hamburg DPA and will address their misunderstandings around the purpose and effect of the update. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone”.

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