When Facebook acquired WhatsApp consumers were likely concerned about how their personal information may be shared between the apps. That fear was confirmed when the two platforms revealed in August that some information, notably phone numbers, would be shared between WhatsApp and Facebook. That development did not sit well with the UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, or other regulatory bodies as well as consumers. In the UK, an investigation was launched and Commissioner Denham provided an update yesterday that was a mixture of good news and bad news.
The good news is that for now at least, WhatsApp data and information from users in the UK will not be shared with Facebook. At least, insofar as that data was being used for advertising and product improvement purposes on the social media platform, which was the intended use announced by Facebook when the change was first revealed.
Commissioner Denham has not indicated how long this “pause” on the use of data between WhatsApp and Facebook may last. However, she has requested the platforms commence “an undertaking committing to better explaining to customers how their data will be used, and to giving users ongoing control over that information.” The UK is pushing for the use of WhatsApp data by Facebook to be an opt-in situation with the ability for consumers to change their decision at any time.
The bad news, as indicated by Denham, is that Facebook and WhatsApp have not agreed to this framework. That reluctance and the potential that Facebook could resume using the data, potentially in violation of UK law, could trigger “enforcement action” warns Denham.
Besides pushing for an opt-in choice for consumers on the use of their data, Denham thinks users should be provided with much more information about how Facebook plans to use the data they receive from WhatsApp. Denham also thinks WhatsApp has failed to obtain “valid consent” from users for their information to be shared with Facebook.