Privacy Groups Lash Out At WhatsApp's Data Sharing Pact With Facebook

facebook roadmap
Earlier this week, WhatsApp made the surprising move to begin sharing user information with its parent company, Facebook. WhatsApp's original stated goal was to know “as little about you as possible”, but that mantra seems to have been thrown out the window in an effort to further increases Facebook’s booming mobile ad revenue.

WhatsApp didn’t make any qualms about the benefits of such a move, writing on Thursday, “By connecting your phone number with Facebook's systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you've never heard of.”

Needless to say, privacy groups aren’t happy at all about WhatsApp’s change of heart when it comes to user privacy — especially considering that Facebook will now be privy to WhatsApp users’ phone numbers. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has blasted the move, and says that Facebook and WhatsApp are in violation of a commitment to privacy that was promised back in 2014, when the former acquired the latter.


After EPIC filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over the 2014 deal, the FTC sated that both companies had to adhere to their privacy promises. Specifically, the FTC wrote [PDF]:

WhatsApp's privacy policy clearly states, among other things, that users' information will not be used for advertising purposes or sold to a third party for commercial or marketing use without the users' consent. Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp would not nullify these promises and WhatsApp and Facebook would continue to be bound by them. Further, Facebook has recently promised consumers that it would not change the way WhatsApp uses customer information. Therefore, any use of WhatsApp's subscriber information that violates these privacy promises, by either WhatsApp or Facebook, could constitute a deceptive or unfair practice under the FTC Act. 

EPIC says that the recent actions of Facebook and WhatsApp fly in the face of what it promised users and what the FTC demanded of both companies.

Separately, the UK's Information Commissioner (ICO) is also investigating whether the new privacy policy runs afoul of privacy laws. "Some might consider it'll give them a better service, others may be concerned by the lack of control," said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham in a statement to BBC News. "Our role is to pull back the curtain on things like this, ensuring that companies are being transparent with the public about how their personal data is being shared and protecting consumers by making sure the law is being followed."

While Facebook and WhatsApp contend that this change in policy will “help” users by way of combatting spam and providing more relevant interactions with businesses, the benefits to Facebook are far greater.