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WhatsApp's New Privacy Policy Attracts Regulatory Scrutiny

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WhatsApp’s revised privacy policy, which allows it to share user data with parent company Facebook, has now attracted regulatory scrutiny. A German privacy regulator is seeking an administrative order to stop the social media giant from moving forward with the updated privacy policy, Bloomberg reports.

According to the report, the regulator in the city of Hamburg is concerned that Facebook would use the data collected from WhatsApp to expand its marketing and advertising businesses. The company’s data protection guideline reportedly already states that it could aggregate data from users across all its services. It is now forcing WhatsApp users to comply with that policy.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Johannes Caspar, said that “there has not yet been any regulatory review of the actual processing operations between WhatsApp and Facebook that we are aware of. There is currently reason to believe that the provisions on data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook should be enforced inadmissibly due to the lack of voluntary and informed consent.”

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Caspar is seeking an immediately executable order before May 15th, which is when WhatsApp plans to enforce the new policy. However, Facebook will have the chance to respond to the allegations at a hearing, the Hamburg Commissioner said.

WhatsApp reportedly has around 60 million users in Germany. The German branch of Facebook is based in Hamburg.

Germany bids to stop Facebook from enforcing WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

WhatsApp started notifying users of its revised privacy policy at the start of this year. A widespread backlash followed, with some users even switching to rival services such as Telegram and Signal.

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Facebook defended its stance saying the revised policy would not affect users’ privacy. The company also revealed what data it collects from WhatsApp and how it shares that information. However, Facebook did not withdraw the new privacy policy. Instead, it delayed the change until May 15th. Now, amidst all that, the social media giant is facing a legal challenge over the matter.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Facebook said it is reviewing the correspondence it has received from the Hamburg regulator. The company “will address their misunderstandings around the purpose and effect of the update”. It remains “committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone.”

“To be clear, by accepting WhatsApp’s updated terms of service, users are not agreeing to any expansion in our ability to share data with Facebook, and the update does not impact the privacy of their messages with friends or family wherever they are in the world,” Facebook said.

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This investigation into WhatsApp’s revised privacy policy in Germany comes right on the heels of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) announcing a similar examination. The CCI is looking into the competition aspect of the matter, saying it could lead to excessive data collection and stalking of consumers for targeted advertising.

Since WhatsApp is hugely popular in India, the CCI is seeing this as an abuse of dominant market position. The Supreme Court of India, meanwhile, is separately investigating the privacy angle of the matter. It would be interesting to see what comes out of all these investigations into WhatsApp’s revised privacy policy.