Ireland’s data chief backs WP29’s tough stance on WhatsApp data sharing

1 Nov 2017

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon. Image: Data Summit

Data Protection Commissioner confirms Facebook and WhatsApp have suspended data sharing as talks continue.

The creation of an EU taskforce over WhatsApp’s alleged data sharing with Facebook has the support of Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) Helen Dixon, a spokesperson confirmed.

Last week, the Article 29 Working Party (WP29), a group of pan-European data regulators, established the taskforce led by the UK’s information commissioner office because it felt that concerns over consent for data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook had still not been resolved.

‘WhatsApp and Facebook Ireland have reconfirmed that the current data-sharing suspension will continue during this ongoing engagement with the DPC’

Facebook was fined £94m (€110m) by the EU earlier this year for providing misleading information about its 2014 takeover of WhatsApp. Facebook said it could not match user accounts across both platforms, but did precisely that when it changed its privacy policy a year ago to start sharing WhatsApp users’ phone numbers and other data with Facebook.

In a letter dated 24 October, WP29 told WhatsApp that its concerns about user consent for data sharing had not been resolved.

It is understood that data transfer has been halted pending engagement between the regulators and Facebook and WhatsApp.

“The DPC welcomes the letter’s useful analysis of the substantive data protection issues that were raised by the privacy policy,” the Office of the DPC (ODPC) said in a statement.

The DPC is continuing to engage directly with WhatsApp and Facebook Ireland in resolving the same issues.

WhatsApp data-sharing suspension

In August, following extensive discussions with the DPC over several months, WhatsApp launched FAQs that provided more clarity and transparency on how users’ data is being shared and used.

“The DPC is also pleased that WhatsApp and Facebook Ireland have reconfirmed that the current data-sharing suspension will continue during this ongoing engagement with the DPC, specifically related to data sharing for use by Facebook Ireland to present products and ads,” said the ODPC.

“This specific data sharing will not be activated for EU-based WhatsApp users until WhatsApp confirms the mechanism to enable this specific data sharing with the DPC.

“The DPC’s engagement with WhatsApp and Facebook, and any outcomes arising from that engagement, are completely without prejudice to the actions of any other individual Data Protection Authority in relation to this matter or of the taskforce formed by the Article 29 Working Party to discuss this matter,” it said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years