Facebook ordered to stop collecting data on German WhatsApp users

28 Sep 201619 Shares

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Facebook ordered to stop collecting data on its German WhatsApp users. Image: Chonlachai/Shutterstock

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Facebook has been ordered by Germany to stop collecting data on WhatsApp users.

Facebook has been told by the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information that it must stop collecting and storing data on WhatsApp’s 35m users in Germany.

The Commissioner said that Facebook (owner of WhatsApp) cannot collect and store the data because it has not obtained effective approval from the German WhatsApp user community.

‘It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook. Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened’
– JOHANNES CASPAR

The social network said that it plans to appeal the order.

“We will work with the Hamburg DPA [Data Protection Authority] in an effort to address their questions and resolve any concerns,” Facebook said in a statement.

Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19bn in 2014.

The crux of the issue is Facebook’s decision in August that it would begin sharing data from its 1bn-plus user base, including phone numbers, from WhatsApp users with Facebook to boost targeted ads.

Hamburg DPA slams Facebook for misleading data policy

While Facebook allowed users to opt out for advertising purposes, it did not allow them to opt out of data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook.

The Hamburg DPA has also ordered Facebook to delete all information it has gathered so far on Germany’s 35m WhatsApp users.

“After the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook two years ago, both parties have publicly assured that data will not be shared between them,” said Johannes Caspar, Hamburg’s Data Protection Commissioner.

“The fact that this is now happening is not only a misleading of their users and the public, but also constitutes an infringement of national data protection law.”

Facebook’s German office is in Hamburg, which puts it under Caspar’s jurisdiction.

He said that both Facebook and WhatsApp operate as independent companies that process their users’ data based on their own terms and conditions, and privacy rules.

Italy’s data privacy watchdog is also planning a similar investigation.

“It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook.

“Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened,” Caspar said.

WhatsApp. Image:Chonlachi/Shutterstock

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com