Hamburg’s Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information issued an administrative order to immediately stop the collection and storage of data from German WhatsApp users.
It also told Face to delete all information it had already collected from the messaging service.
Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, said in a statement:
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.In addition, there are many millions of people whose contact details were uploaded to WhatsApp from the user’s address books, although they might not even have a connection to Facebook or WhatsApp. According to Facebook, this gigantic amount of data has not yet been collected. Facebook’s answer, that this has merely not been done for the time being, is cause for concern that the gravity of the data protection breach will have much a more severe impact.”
Facebook altered WhatsApp terms and conditions to a default setting of sharing data. Users were given time to change their settings if they wished to but there has still been wide criticism of the move.
This is more or less an expected turn of events, as privacy groups have been vocal in filing complaints against the new scheme since WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook revealed it a month ago.
The new policy entails that the messaging app will share its users’ data such as phone numbers with the social media network, and it’ll grant businesses the capability of contacting users directly via the app.
This development comes as a bit of a surprise to some, as WhatsApp CEO and cofounder Jan Koum assured users that Facebook’s acquisition of the messaging app won’t put their privacy and security in jeopardy.
“Make no mistake: our future partnership with Facebook will not compromise the vision that brought us to this point. Our focus remains on delivering the promise of WhatsApp far and wide, so that people around the world have the freedom to speak their mind without fear,” the executive said back in March 2014.
Facebook, who has its German offices in Hamburg, told Reuters it will appeal Caspar’s ruling.
“We will appeal this order and we will work with the Hamburg DPA in an effort to address their questions and resolve any concerns,” Facebook said in a statement to Reuters.
There are ongoing legal challenges in Germany and in India to oppose the move and US regulators are also examining the issue.
Germany regulators may not be Facebook’s only problem. Reuters reported on Tuesday that Italy’s data privacy watchdog has also opened a probe into WhatsApp’s data sharing with Facebook.
Facebook has run into regulatory trouble in Europe before. In November 2015, a Belgian court ordered Facebook to stop tracking non-Facebook web users through social plugins on third-party websites.
Download the Full statement here (PDF).
If you have an opinion regarding the way Facebook and WhatsApp are handling the users’ privacy of the messaging app, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.