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In January this year, the Facebook-owned messaging app introduced new data-collection terms for when users interact with businesses on the platform. People were originally given until the next month to accept the terms, before a massive public backlash forced Facebook to extend this to May before features of the app would start becoming unavailable.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), which represents consumers in the EU, has now filed a complaint with the European Commission regarding what it claims is a breach of EU consumer rights.
The complaint is first due to the “persistent, recurrent and intrusive” nature of notifications pushing users to accept the new policy updates, which impairs their freedom of choice. This is a breach of the EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices, the BEUC said.
It also said the terms were too opaque and accused WhatsApp of failing to explain in plain language the nature of the changes.
“It is basically impossible for consumers to get a clear understanding of what consequences WhatsApp’s changes entail for their privacy, particularly in relation to the transfer of their personal data to Facebook and other third parties. This ambiguity amounts to a breach of EU consumer law which obliges companies to use clear and transparent contract terms and commercial communications,” the BEUC said.
The policy is currently under scrutiny by the European Data Protection Authorities for breaches of EU data-protection law.
“They’ve been telling users that their access to their app will be cut off if they do not accept the new terms. Yet consumers don’t know what they’re actually accepting. WhatsApp has been deliberately vague about this and consumers would be exposed to far reaching data processing without valid consent. That’s why we’re calling on the authorities to take swift action against WhatsApp to ensure that it respects consumer rights”.
Last year, the European Commission advised its staff to start using Signal for encrypted messaging instead of WhatsApp as it pushed to tighten the security of its communications.
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