The order was handed down by the Commission for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. The commission based it’s ruling on the fact that WhatsApp and Facebook should not be seen as one entity but two different firms.
Therefore, passing personal data of users of one entity to a different firm is in breach of the laws governing the privacy of users.
Basically, the contention is that it is unethical for one company to share user information with a different company. That point about Facebook and WhatsApp been two different companies is rather tenuous though. The fact is Facebook owns WhatsApp. So it would be easy to argue that both are different limbs of the same body. Or something like that.
Johannes Caspar is the Commissioner that passed down the ruling that could be the beginning of a nightmare for WhatsApp and Facebook when it was decided to alter the terms and conditions WhatsApp users must agree to before using WhatsApp.
When Facebook bought WhatsApp, Facebook decided not to change the terms and conditions governing the messaging app. For a while they stuck to that promise. But commercial interest took over, so they altered it without really telling anybody how exactly it was going to affect them.
In this piece on why he took WhatsApp to an Indian court, Karmanya Singh outlined some of the changes in the new T&C most users agree to without really knowing what they are getting into. Here is a summary of the new T&C:
- It now sought to share information (including messages) with Facebook and its family of companies.
- It also sought to send users advertisements and banners based on their messaging history.
- It could also retain ‘popular’ videos and photos for an indefinite period of time. This policy also granted WhatsApp a “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, create derivative works of, display, and perform the information (including the content)” that users upload, submit, store, send, or receive on or through their Services.
- The minimum user age was now changed from 16 years to 13 years.
Putting it like that is rather ominous I must say. Making it look as if bad things would be done with our WhatsApp data once once Facebook laid their greedy hands on them.
However, the fact still remains, Facebook intend to take liberties with our private data without telling us clearly about it. Since people don’t bother reading T&Cs because they tend to be very long and boring, they innocently just tick the ‘I agree‘ button and move on.
Presto! Facebook now have access to your data on WhatsApp.
The judgement passed by the German commission said among other things that:
This administrative order protects the data of about 35 million WhatsApp users in Germany. It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook,”
Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened.
After the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook two years ago, both parties have publicly assured that data will not be shared between them,”
The fact that this is now happening is not only a misleading of their users and the public, but also constitutes an infringement of national data protection law,”
As expected Facebook intends to appeal the decision by he commission. Facebook made available a statement to Reuters saying:
We will appeal this order and we will work with the Hamburg DPA in an effort to address their questions and resolve any concerns.”
So many legal battles in different fronts are opening up for Facebook since the introduction of the new T&C in WhatsApp.
And just yesterday, the Italian counterpart of the German data protection commission asked Facebook to come and clarify what the new T&C would mean for Italians. In order words, let them explain their side of the story before a ruling similar to the Germans is foisted on them.
Is Facebook ruing the day they decided to go down this route? Perhaps. Or maybe not.
image credit: independent.co.uk; whatsapp.com; toptechnews.com; thecustodianonline.com