UK, Facebook still at odds over WhatsApp privacy despite ‘pause’ in sharing


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.

Meanwhile, Facebook believes the information sharing and recent change in policy is consistent with the existing privacy policy and terms and conditions for WhatsApp along with applicable privacy laws in both the UK as well as numerous other localities that are challenging the information sharing.

source: UK Information Commissioner’s Office

About the Author: Jeff Causey

Raised in North Carolina, Jeff Causey is a licensed CPA in North Carolina. Jeff's past Android devices include an HTC EVO, a Samsung Note II, an LG G3, and a Motorola Moto X Pure Edition along with a Samsung Galaxy Tablet 10.1. He currently uses a Samsung Galaxy S8 and (very rarely) a Nexus 7 (2013). He is also using a Verizon-branded Motorola Moto Z Play Droid supplied by his job. Jeff used to have a pair of Google Glass and a Moto 360 Sport in his stable of gadgets. Unfortunately, his kids have all drunk the Apple Kool-Aid and have i-devices. Life at home often includes demonstrations of the superiority of his Android based devices. In his free time, Jeff is active an active runner usually training for his next marathon, owns a MINI Cooper, and plays Dungeons & Dragons. Jeff has three mostly grown kids and a golden retriever.