27th Oct 2016

WhatsApp's data gathering probed

  • A German privacy watchdog has ordered Facebook to delete all data it has collected via WhatsApp (Photo: Spencer E Holtaway)

A German privacy watchdog has ordered Facebook to stop the intrusive collection of data from users of its WhatsApp messaging service.

Hamburg's data protection commissioner Johannes Caspar issued an administrative order on Tuesday (26 September) prohibiting Facebook “with immediate effect” from collecting and storing data of German WhatsApp users - roughly 35 million people.

“It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook," Caspar said in a statement.

He noted Facebook had not asked their permission in advance in violation of German privacy laws. WhatsApp also uploads contact details from the user's address book.

Caspar's administrative order requires Facebook to delete all data that has been forwarded by WhatsApp.

The US giant acquired WhatsApp two years ago and then announced data would not be shared between them.

WhatsApp updated its terms and conditions recently and included a clause allowing users' data to be shared with Facebook.

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

Data authorities in Italy are also looking into similar WhatsApp privacy violation issues.

On Tuesday, they asked both Facebook and WhatsApp to disclose what is being shared and if users had consented to releasing the data, reported Italian news agency ANSA.

An outstanding legal case between the US social media giant's Irish subsidiary and Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems helped dismantle a transatlantic data trade pact last October.

The pact has since been replaced with the so-called Privacy Shield that is supposed to maintain data protection level standards of EU citizens whenever their data is used by US-based based companies.

Schrems wants to launch a class action suit against Facebook Ireland with the backing of some 25,000 users.

The Brussels-based European Digital Rights Initiative nominated Facebook for its forthcoming Big Brother Award as the "worst privacy abuser".

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