Facebook user on a phone

WhatsApp must stop sharing data with Facebook, French watchdog demands

Image credit: Dreamstime

French data privacy watchdog the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) has ordered WhatsApp to stop sharing user data with its parent company, Facebook.

The encrypted messaging service was acquired by Facebook in 2014. In May 2017, the European Commissioned fined Facebook £94m for having provided “misleading information” over its takeover of the messaging app. Facebook claimed that it would not be capable of matching Facebook users with their WhatsApp accounts, although it went on to do so.

This made Facebook the first company to receive sanctions under the European Commission’s Merger Regulations.

In 2016, WhatsApp updated its terms of service to state that it shares its users’ data – such as phone numbers – with Facebook in order to improve targeted advertising, as well as to tackle spam, refine security measures and gather business intelligence.

The CNIL went on to investigate WhatsApp, and concluded that although some of its statement was acceptable, it was less valid to state that the data sharing would help gather business intelligence, given that the app never alerted its users that it would be collecting personal data for this purpose.

Although a 30 day opt-out was available, the only way users can permanently opt out of this arrangement is to uninstall the app, the CNIL said. This violates the freedoms of users and the data protection regulations in France. WhatsApp has a month to comply with the CNIL’s demands.

Facebook has faced scrutiny and warnings elsewhere with regard to its collection of personal data from WhatsApp users. In November 2016, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office announced that Facebook had agreed to stop using data from British WhatsApp users to target advertisements. The watchdog said that Facebook would face sanctions if it continued to non-consensually gather data. Germany has also ordered Facebook to cease gathering user data from WhatsApp, and the EU’s data regulator, the Article 29 Working Party, has warned WhatsApp over its sharing of data.

Facebook states that privacy is “incredibly important” to WhatsApp, that very little data is collected and that every message sent via the app is encrypted. According to the CNIL, Facebook has given its reassurance that personal data belonging to its 10m French users has not been used for targeted advertising.

Jay Koum, founder of WhatsApp, has spoken publicly about his hostility towards advertising and reassured WhatsApp users that ads will never be part of the app.

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