German Regulator Tells Facebook to Stop Processing WhatsApp User Data

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(Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Facebook’s new privacy policy for WhatsApp is illegal, according to a German regulator.

On Tuesday, the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information ordered Facebook to stop processing personal data from WhatsApp, citing problematic and contradictory terms in the privacy policy. 

The social network has been asking users to accept the new privacy policy by May 15, claiming it’ll lead to no changes to your personal chats. Instead, the updated terms are more about empowering Facebook to manage the messages you have with businesses over the app. 

However, Germany’s privacy regulator is concerned the new policy will also give Facebook the power to transfer data to third-party companies. “There is no sufficient legal basis for processing by Facebook for its own purposes, regardless of WhatsApp’s current consent to the terms of use,” the Hamburg Commissioner said in a post translated from German.

“The provisions on data transfer are scattered across different levels of the data protection declaration, they are unclear and difficult to distinguish between their European and international versions. In addition, their content is misleading and there are considerable contradictions,” the commissioner added. “Even after a more detailed analysis, it cannot be seen what consequences the consent has for the users.” 

Germany’s privacy regulator went on to argue the user consent to the privacy policy is neither “transparent or voluntary.” Indeed, if you refuse to agree to the new terms, WhatsApp will limit and eventually cripple the messaging service’s functionality.

Still, Facebook says it’s considering options to appeal the order from the Hamburg Commissioner. According to the social network, Germany’s privacy regulator fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of the privacy policy update.

“Our recent update explains the options people have to message a business on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said. “As the Hamburg DPA’s claims are wrong, the order will not impact the continued rollout of the update. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone.”

The spokesperson also noted that a majority of WhatsApp users who’ve received the new terms of service and privacy policy have already accepted the update. 

Despite Facebook’s plan to appeal, the Hamburg Commissioner is calling on the European Data Protection Board to get involved and issue a decision on the matter that applies across the EU.

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