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(Update: UK data sharing paused) WhatsApp under fire for sharing user data with Facebook

WhatsApp is under fire for sharing user data with its parent company Facebook, with regulators questioning the validity of user consent to its updated ToS.

Published onNovember 8, 2016

Update, Nov 8th: Following user backlash and probes from numerous watchdogs, Facebook has agreed to suspend using data collected from WhatsApp messenger for advertisements or product-improvement purposes, at least in the UK.

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has been monitoring WhatApp's new privacy policy and has come to the conclusion that consumers aren't properly protected under the latest document. Following an ICO request, Facebook has confirmed that it will pause using UK WhatsApp data. Fines are likely to be imposed if the company begins sharing user data between services again without user content and additional protections in place.

However, the company has refused to sign up to a scheme that would see customers given better explanations about how their data is used and control over that data. Facebook says that it would be inappropriate to agree to a solution with just one regulator before receiving and reviewing questions from other bodies.

"We're pleased that they've agreed to pause using data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes … If Facebook starts using the data without valid consent, they may face enforcement action from my office." -- head of the ICO, Elizabeth Denham

This decision in the UK may set a precedent for a pause in other countries that are also conducting their own investigations. A total of 28 data protection authorities from across the European Union have also requested that WhatsApp and Facebook pause sharing user data until legal protections can be assured.

Original, Oct 29th:

These user data stories are always interesting because half of us don’t care if one app shares our data with another, especially one that owns them. The other half of us get all riled up and hit the comments with fire in our hearts and venom on our tongues (or is it fingers?). But as app users we’re in the business of giving away our information and even when we’re angry we typically continue using the services that we feel have slighted us.

How to protect your privacy using Android

Such is the case with WhatsApp, which has just received warnings from EU privacy regulators reprimanding it for sharing user data with its parent company Facebook. Recent changes to WhatsApp’s terms allow the messaging service to share your phone number with Facebook, filling in yet another piece of Facebook’s all-encompassing picture of you.

Recent changes to WhatsApp's terms allow the messaging service to share your phone number with Facebook.

This is the first such change to WhatsApp’s terms and conditions since Facebook acquired the company back in 2014. But the EU’s 28 data protection authorities have sent letters to WhatsApp requesting the app stop sharing any user data with Facebook until “appropriate legal protections could be assured”.

That warning hasn’t stopped Italian antitrust watchdogs from already launching a probe into the transmission of user data from WhatsApp to Facebook though. As Reuters reports: “WhatsApp’s new privacy policy involves the sharing of information with Facebook for purposes that were not included in the terms of service when users signed up, raising questions about the validity of users’ consent”.

As always, be careful what you agree to. Not just when installing an app but also when installing an update or agreeing to a change in terms and conditions. If you couldn’t care less what gets shared about you then carry on as you were, but if this kind of story concerns you the least you can do is take the time to read the fine print before hitting “install”, “update” or “I agree”.

Do you care if WhatsApp shares your data with Facebook? How do you manage your online privacy?

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