WhatsApp given ultimatum to stop sharing user data with Facebook

Luxembourg - Facebook’s messaging service WhatsApp was given a one-month ultimatum by one of Europe’s strictest privacy watchdogs, which ordered it to stop sharing user data with its parent without getting the necessary consent.

France’s data protection authority CNIL gave a sharp warning to WhatsApp by issuing a formal notice, criticising it for “insufficiently” cooperating.

The decision comes a year after European Union privacy authorities said they had “serious concerns” about the sharing of WhatsApp user data for purposes that weren’t included in the terms of service and privacy policy when people signed up to the service.

CNIL “decided to make this formal notice public in order to ensure the highest level of transparency on the massive data transfer from WhatsApp to Facebook and thus to alert to the need for individuals concerned to keep their data under control,” the regulator said in a statement on its website this week.

Facebook faces regulatory hurdles throughout Europe over a range of privacy issues. German antitrust officials could issue findings within days on a probe into whether the social network abuses its dominant position when users sign agreements that allows the company to harvest vast amounts of data.

Bundeskartellamt President Andreas Mundt said the developments would be ready by the end of the year.

WhatsApp and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

The merging of WhatsApp’s data with Facebook was a first step by Facebook last year toward monetising the platform since the social network’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought the company for about $22bn in 2014.

The EU’s 28 privacy chiefs were critical from the start and as part of their probes across the bloc, in a letter to WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum in October that stressed their concerns.

The data transfers from WhatsApp to Facebook happen in part without the users’ consent, nor the legitimate interest of WhatsApp, CNIL said.

The authority rejected arguments by WhatsApp that it is subject only to the law of the US, saying that it becomes the authority in charge the moment any company is processing data in France.

The French regulator in its statement on Monday said the formal notice wasn’t a sanction, but WhatsApp would risk fines at a later stage if it failed to comply.

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