The service cannot be used without consent as of February 8. The main concern here is that data from WhatsApp users should also be shared with Facebook itself and other subsidiaries of the group, such as Instagram.
In addition to mobile phone number, status information or transaction data, this also includes device and connection or location data.
The service explains the purpose of the possible data transfer as follows: “Whatsapp also works with other companies on Facebook and shares information with them to help us operate, provide, improve, understand and adapt our services, support and market. In addition, they want to act together “against spam, threats, abuse or infringement.”
Confusion about Whatsapp changes
However, this contradicts various points of the current Data Protection Guideline for Europe, in which Facebook explicitly mentions the exchange of data in order to improve its products. “With regard to the question of what WhatsApp transmits to Facebook, there is no need to make everything clear to European users,” warns Hamburg Data Protection Supervisor Johannes Caspar.
Whatsapp’s assurance that the data will not be used for Facebook’s own purposes is contradictory. The information the user receives about group collaboration and data exchange is extremely vague and opaque. “Data from Whatsapp users can be transferred within the group mostly without restrictions,” he concluded after analyzing the data protection guidelines.
What the group is doing with this can be found in the linked explanations of how companies work on Facebook. “Whatsapp collaborates with other companies on Facebook and shares information with them (…). This helps us to constantly improve WhatsApp, “it says.
Specifically, Facebook also deals with “understanding the use of our services and comparing these results across Facebook”. The group wants to assign which other Facebook services besides WhatsApp the user uses – but also how.
“In this way, for example, we can understand how people use WhatsApp compared to other applications or services from other companies on Facebook,” he explains. This could support product improvements or new features.
The company can also determine which Whatsapp users also use Facebook itself and other services such as Instagram or Facebook Messenger – or not. This means that data transfer also affects people who are not on Facebook at all, but only use WhatsApp.
“The fact that their data ends up on Facebook is problematic and requires detailed investigation,” says Caspar. Since the entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Irish Supervisory Authority has been responsible for this. But the people of Hamburg want to connect with their colleagues in Ireland.
Facebook also wants users of the WhatsApp service to use the service not only privately. With “Whatsapp for Business”, people and companies should also communicate with each other through Whatsapp. The main goal of the new guidelines is to improve the way companies use Whatsapp to contact customers, explains Niahm Sweeney, Director of Policy for Whatsapp in Europe.
To this end, it should be checked which brands and companies that users are already following anywhere on the network. “In this way, Facebook could allow users to communicate with companies through Whatsapp, which they find on Facebook,” says Whatsapp.
WhatsApp data is not currently used for Facebook ads, the company writes. Facebook would like to change this, but only “if the head of the Irish Data Protection Authority agrees to a mechanism that allows such use.” purposes and do not intend to do so ’.
Massive criticism of Whatsapp
Yet there is a lot of criticism. “This is a huge ‘damn’ for antitrust authorities,” Roger McNamee said on Twitter. The former Facebook investor has changed from mentor Mark Zuckerberg to one of his toughest critics. In fact, the Bundeskartellamt was clearly also surprised.
“We were not informed in advance of Whatsapp’s new practice,” said Andreas Mundt, president of the Federal Cartel Office. The Office has long discussed with Facebook about the connection between user data. “The fact that personal data from the use of WhatsApp flows to Facebook and becomes part of an extensive data collection is nothing new,” says Mundt.
“As early as 2019, we banned Facebook from merging user profile data from its own services, such as Whatsapp, Instagram, and Oculus, as well as user browsing behavior on other sites.” The decision is now examining how compatible this decision is with the new guidelines.
The case is currently still in court. “We criticized Facebook, among other things, for not allowing users to voluntarily consent to data collection outside of Facebook,” says Mundt. “From this point of view, too, you have to look at the new Whatsapp regulation.”
Musk and Snowden promote the Alternative Signal
However, it could be more difficult for the Cartel Office to counteract the new changes. Because the procedure in 2019 was based on the finding that Facebook is dominant in the German social networking market. However, the question is whether Whatsapp’s dominance is sufficient to transfer it to the courier market. After all, there are alternatives like Signal or Threema. “Don’t be blackmailed, use other messengers,” D64 co-chairman Henning Tillmann said on Twitter. Tesla boss Elon Musk promoted Messenger Signal on Twitter and immediately received support from informant Edward Snowden. When he doubted that Signal was safer, he simply replied, “I use it every day and I’m not dead yet.”
Whatsapp itself writes about the question of what are the possibilities of using data by Facebook: You can delete your Whatsapp account or Facebook account at any time and continue to use another service.