WhatsApp’s decision to share with Facebook its users data, including phone numbers, has caused big troubles and criticism in Europe. And we mean not only between the many users of the app, but also with European governments.
The first country that decided to ban the data-sharing plan has been Germany, immediately followed by the UK, where Facebook may be forced to pay a fine of up to £500,000 if decides to reintroduce the scheme. But other privacy watchdogs across Europe are concerned about the data-sharing plan, and 28 European authorities signed an open letter addressed to Jan Koum, WhatsApp CEO, asking for a suspension of the data collection.
And now, the Financial Times reports that Facebook has decided to put a stop to the collection of data from WhatsApp users across Europe, and the news has been confirmed by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s Office (that is Facebook’s European regulatory body). Elizabeth Denham, UK’s information commissioner (ICO), recently stated “We’ve set out the law clearly to Facebook, and we’re pleased that they’ve agreed to pause using data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes,“.
However, the victory of European privacy watchdogs could be a very short one, since Facebook affirms that the decision to suspend the data collection may be only temporary. When in August WhatsApp announced the change in its terms and conditions, the service claimed that “None of the information you share on WhatsApp, from status updates to messages, will be shared onto Facebook for others to see.“. Following this announcement, and all the criticism, Facebook added that the intention of the plan was actually to reduce spam, by showing targeted ads on Facebook.
Recently, during the Wall Street Journal Tech Conference, Brian Acton and Jan Koum talked about these privacy issues, and stated that they remain committed to their users’ privacy. Koum pointed out that “We never asked our users for their names, for their genders, for their age or where they live, so it’s not like sitting on the wealth of information,”.
Brian Acton also added that the decision to update the terms of service was taken in order to take advantage of Facebook’s technology (in particular its spam-detection system), for the previous terms of service of WhatsApp were “somewhat woefully out of date,”.