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German Regulator Issues A Ban On New WhatsApp Privacy Policy

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Troubles are mounting for Facebook over the revised WhatsApp privacy policy which allows it to collect user data from the messaging app. A widespread backlash has already forced the company to delay the rollout of the new policy by several months. Now, a German regulator has issued an emergency ban on the move saying Facebook’s attempts are illegal.

Johannes Caspar, Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, had last month opened proceedings against Facebook seeking an administrative order to stop the company from moving forward with the updated WhatsApp privacy policy. Now, he has issued a three-month emergency ban prohibiting the social media giant from enforcing the new policy on the previously announced May 15 deadline, at least in Germany.

“The order aims to secure the rights and freedoms of millions of users which are agreeing to the terms Germany-wide. We need to prevent damage and disadvantages linked to such a black-box procedure,” Caspar said in a statement. The new terms are “intransparent, inconsistent, and overly broad,” he added. He has also asked European Union regulators to issue a similar order that covers users across the continent.

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Caspar is also taking into account the possibility of Facebook misusing the information it collects from WhatsApp users to influence the German federal elections in September. Germany has nearly 60 million WhatsApp users.

Facebook has denied any wrongdoing, of course. The company labeled Caspar’s claims “wrong” and said the order would not stop it from rolling out the new policy. These actions are “based on a fundamental misunderstanding” of the new policy’s purpose and effect, Facebook’s WhatsApp unit told Bloomberg in an emailed statement.

Facebook could have more troubles coming its way over the new WhatsApp privacy policy

Despite previously stating that the updated WhatsApp privacy policy will come into effect on May 15, Facebook recently confirmed that users will still get time to accept the new terms. They will not have their accounts deleted or lose functionality if they fail to accept it before the upcoming deadline. Instead, the company will continue to show a notification reminding users to accept the new terms for “several weeks.”

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If users don’t accept the new policy even after the notification becomes persistent, they will then start losing functionality. Quite clearly, Facebook is concerned that it may lose users to rival services if it enforces the updated WhatsApp privacy policy straightaway. The company now wants to give users additional time to accept it. In the meantime, it is trying to grow confidence inside them that the new policy would not affect their privacy.

However, now that Germany has issued an emergency ban on it, Facebook may have more troubles coming its way. It could pave way for regulators in other territories to also consider similar moves and thoroughly look into the matter.

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has already announced a similar examination. The Indian regulatory body is looking into the competition aspect of the matter. The Supreme Court of India is also separately investigating the privacy angle of the new policy. It now remains to be seen how Facebook deals with these mounting troubles over the revised WhatsApp privacy policy.

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