WhatsApp and Facebook share user data. Can they do so?
The European privacy watchdog (WP29) thinks not. Last Friday, this Article 29-working party has sent a letter to WhatsApp in which it argues that they are not allowed to just share data among WhatsApp and Facebook.
Earlier, our colleague Robbert Santifort wrote about the privacy concerns of WhatsApp (in Dutch), especially after the acquisition by Facebook back in 2014. These concerns, despite WhatsApp’s recently-launched end-to-end-encryption, are justified. WhatsApp rather plays fast and loose with the data of its users as it now shares everything with Facebook.
Why is this statement important for the WhatsApp user prior to the acquisition by Facebook?
Here comes the tricky part. Based on privacy legislation, a company has to add a description of the purpose of processing user data. This description will contain information on the terms and conditions it can process your data. In the end, it’s the user who grants permission to use the data for certain other purposes. The problem here lies in the fact that Facebook and WhatsApp did not have the same description for the use of user data prior to the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook.
The Article 29-working party states another criticism in its letter to WhatsApp. They question the possibilities users have to exercise their rights. Furthermore, they wonder what the effects of sharing data will be for some WhatsApp users within Facebook as a whole. Not all WhatsApp users are Facebook users and vice versa. In such case, can personal data be shared just like that?
At us from Kneppelhout, another question arose. Facebook now owns such a large amount of personal data, did it take all the aligning technical and organizational measures to protect the personal data from users? What if Facebook is being hacked, what recently happened to Yahoo, and all 500 million personal data accounts get stolen? That will have an enormous impact. And the individual consequences for each user were not even taken into account yet. Anyway, we probably have to wait a bit for a response from WhatsApp.
Ady van Nieuwenhuizen, IP Lawyer
Talin Ghazarian, IP Lawyer