Facebook is being ordered by Germany to stop data collection on its WhatsApp users

Ever since it was bought out by Facebook in 2014, WhatsApp has undergone several changes and made quite a few modifications to its privacy and data collection policies. Most of them have to do with Facebook integration and trying to get relevant information from users in order to have them profiled for marketing research and targeting.

All things considered, you might think that it’s not that big of a deal, but seeing how WhatsApp’s strong point was the encryption and the fact that you could actually send messages and data securely, you will see why it is being frowned upon at this point.

Facebook is criticized because they have never asked for permission from users for any of these changes in the policy. Johannes Caspar (Hamburg Data Commissioner) stated that he is concerned that Facebook may eventually want to collect data from WhatsApp contact lists for users that are not even connected to Facebook. This could indeed be an issue, and a very easy way for Facebook to over-step their boundaries.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) wrote a very well documented article where they classify the scheme as “a clear threat to users’ control of how their WhatsApp data is shared and used.” We recommend this article as it may shed some light on some details.

The messaging application also stated that they are looking into ways that businesses can use WhatsApp to contact customers, which means that your airline might contact you about your delayed flight or your bank about a possible issue with a transaction and so on. This still creates discomfort because these companies will be sharing your information with Facebook in order to integrate these announcements. It has not been revealed yet how much of these changes are optional and what can be agreed and disagreed in the privacy policy update that is to follow, but most likely, accepting the terms and conditions will lead to this “data sharing scheme”, as privacy regulators have classified it.

Facebook communicated that they will appeal the order from Germany and that they will work with the Hamburg DPA to make sure that all concerns are clarified.

Taking into consideration all the ambiguity and concerns surrounding WhatsApp, it’s understandable that some users may be looking for alternatives to accommodate their encrypted messaging needs. There is a detailed article about our top 5 secure and private chat apps for mobile which you can find here in case you are interested in an alternative.

To find out more, check out The Intependent and The Verge.

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