WhatsApp threatened with legal action over Facebook data sharing deal

The watchdog has given WhatsApp until this week to reverse the controversial change

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 20 September 2016 16:41 BST
Nadeem Masihm was charged with blasphemy for allegedly sending his friend a poem on WhatsApp that was derogatory about the Prophet Muhammad
Nadeem Masihm was charged with blasphemy for allegedly sending his friend a poem on WhatsApp that was derogatory about the Prophet Muhammad

The German consumer watchdog has threatened legal action against WhatsApp over its hugely controversial data sharing deal with Facebook.

The two companies have received huge amounts of anger from their users over the announcement last month that they would start sharing data with each other. That would mean that personal information from WhatsApp would be based to Facebook to help target ads, and that ads will start appearing in WhatsApp, for instance.

But now the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv) has said that WhatsApp could face legal action over what it says is a betrayal by WhatsApp.

“When Facebook took over WhatsApp in 2014, it pledged that the WhatsApp service would remain independent,” the organisation wrote in a statement. “Consumers trusted that their information would remain with WhatsApp alone and that no information would be transferred to Facebook.

“Their trust was broken.”

The group has now said that WhatsApp must change the terms – which aren’t scheduled to kick in until the end of this month – this week. If it doesn’t, then the watchdog will begin legal proceedings.

WhatsApp gives its users a way to opt out of some of the data sharing agreement, allowing them to untick a (mostly hidden) box on the page that tells them about the change. But it doesn’t opt them out of everything and might not be clear to new users.

“We are extremely concerned about this insidious trend: consumers are losing step by step the ownership of their data. Their private sphere is in danger,” the watchdog's statement reads.

How to opt out of new WhatsApp's terms of use

WhatsApp and Facebook have said that the change could actually help users, since they’ll not receive adverts from unusual companies and the information could be used to show them helpful offers. But many people have already opted out and the decision prompted anger among people who saw WhatsApp as a private space.

The vzbv, which serves as a grouping of 41 different German consumer associations, has criticised Facebook’s policies in the past. It has argued that it shouldn’t be allowed to say that it’s free since people pay with their attention, for instance, and it won a case against WhatsApp in April that forced the company to publish its terms and conditions in German.

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