The BEUC says the Facebook-owned messaging service has been ‘deliberately vague’ about its new terms of service.
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and eight of its member groups have submitted a formal complaint against WhatsApp to the EU Commission and the European network of consumer authorities.
The complaint concerns the messaging app’s new terms of service which were rolled out in May. Users received repeated messages and had their use of the app limited until they accepted the new terms.
The complaint concerns WhatsApp “pushing users” to accept the updated policy, and the “opacity of the new terms”. The BEUC says the service has “failed to explain in plain and intelligible language the nature of the changes”.
According to the complaint, the persistence and ambiguity of the policy themselves constitute breaches of EU consumer law, regardless of the effects of the policy.
“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.”
In January, WhatsApp said the new terms would not expand the amount of data it shares with Facebook, which acquired the service in 2014 for more than $19bn.
At the time, Niamh Sweeney, WhatsApp’s EMEA director of policy, said: “There are no changes to WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices in Europe arising from this update. It remains the case that WhatsApp does not share European region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or ads.”
The new complaint also acknowledges that the WhatsApp update is being investigated by the European Data Protection Board, following a case taken by the data protection commissioner in Hamburg, Germany in May. The BEUC is calling upon consumer authorities to investigate the company separately, but also to cooperate with ongoing data protection proceedings.
WhatsApp has yet to publicly comment on the BEUC complaint.