Facebook has been fined with the equivalent of $33.4 million for failing to provide the Brazilian government with WhatsApp messages as part of Brasília's 2016 investigation of select individuals who embezzled significant sums of public funds. In a statement provided to Reuters, Facebook called the fine "groundless" and said it's exploring "all legal options," indicating it won't be complying with the sanction immediately. Brazilian prosecutors initially asked the company to provide them with messages of persons who they suspected defrauded the healthcare system of the state of Amazonas, with the social media giant insisting it complied with the investigation as much as it was legally required to but without elaborating on the matter.
The fine issued to the company includes interest and spans a three-month period of non-compliance before the results of the so-called "Operation Bad Paths" were publicized in September of 2016. The details of the dispute have yet to be disclosed but a similar request made today in any jurisdiction should see Facebook outright dismiss it as its messaging service claims it doesn't save the contents of any messages sent through its network after the thereof have been delivered to their recipients, and that's not accounting for end-to-end encryption that would make such communication extremely difficult to read even if intercepted. Facebook was still recently grilled by European regulators over the manner in which the company and its subsidiary share user data among themselves, whereas the firm is now also enduring a large-scale digital privacy scandal revolving around American political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
The topic of user privacy on the web remains a highly polarizing issue and one that may see a wider variety of Silicon Valley giants placed under regulatory and public scrutiny in the near future. User data is invaluable for the likes of Facebook and Google to monetize their consumer-facing offerings that they are otherwise giving out for free, with such firms leveraging that information to power targeted advertising delivery networks, thus selling highly contextual promotional materials on behalf of marketers.