German data regulator seeks stop for WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

The regulator is concerned the new policy will expand data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook

WhatsApp has become the target of intense scrutiny over the last few months after announcing a change to its privacy policy. Confusion and user backlash over the policy forced WhatsApp to delay the change, and now a German data regulator wants to stop Facebook from collecting user data through WhatsApp.

According to Bloomberg, the Hamburg-based regulator is seeking an administrative order before the May 15th deadline for WhatsApp’s privacy change. The regulator is reportedly concerned that the policy change could allow the use of data for wider marketing and advertising purposes.

The regulator’s data commissioner, Johannes Caspar, told Bloomberg that the new policy will expand data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook and that it could be “unlawfully enforced.” You can read the full statement below:

“WhatsApp is now used by almost 60 million people in Germany and is by far the most widely used social media application, even ahead of Facebook. It is therefore all the more important to ensure that the high number of users, which makes the service attractive to many people, does not lead to an abusive exploitation of data power. Up to now there has been no supervisory review of the actual processing operations between WhatsApp and Facebook that we are aware of. There is reason to believe that the provisions that will enable and expand the sharing of data between WhatsApp and Facebook will be unlawfully enforced due to the lack of voluntary and informed consent.”

Facebook responded with a statement to Bloomberg, noting that it’s reviewing the information it received from the regulator. Further, the company plans to “address their misunderstandings around the purpose and effect of the update.”

Facebook argues the changes don’t expand data sharing with WhatsApp

Throughout the ongoing confusion over WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes, Facebook has been adamant that the change doesn’t expand data sharing between Facebook and WhatsApp. Moreover, Facebook has repeatedly said that the change doesn’t impact the privacy of WhatsApp messages, which use the same end-to-end encryption protocol as another popular private messaging platform, Signal. It’s worth noting that Signal, as well as other messaging apps like Telegram, have seen significant increases in use as people switch away from WhatsApp.

At the same time, Facebook has effectively threatened WhatsApp users to agree to the new privacy policy or risk losing features. In a FAQ page posted on its website, WhatsApp says that users will not be able to read or send messages from the app if they don’t accept the new privacy policy by May 15th.

While it’s great to see German regulators standing up to Facebook, any victory for the regulators will likely be limited to Germany or the E.U. For example, Android Police reports the Hamburg regulator issued a similar order against Facebook four and a half years ago, which lead to limited data sharing between Facebook and WhatsApp in the E.U. compared to other regions.

Although the German action likely won’t impact WhatsApp users in Canada, the results could encourage Canada’s privacy commissioner to take similar actions against Facebook over the privacy policy.

Source: Bloomberg, Android Police