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Facebook ‘pauses’ WhatsApp data sharing in UK during ICO investigation

Facebook has "paused" plans to share data from WhatsApp in the UK after intervention from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The technology firm plans to harvest data from its messaging app and share it with its social network for advertising and product improvement purposes, but it has agreed to suspend this while the watchdog investigates whether it is compliant with UK data protection laws.

"I had concerns that consumers weren’t being properly protected, and it’s fair to say the enquiries my team have made haven’t changed that view," information commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote in a blog post.

"I don’t think users have been given enough information about what Facebook plans to do with their information, and I don’t think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information. I also believe users should be given ongoing control over how their information is used, not just a 30-day window."

She added that it is important that consumers have control over their own information, even when they use free services like Facebook and WhatsApp.

The ICO has asked the company to sign an undertaking to commit to “better explaining to customers how their data will be used” and “giving users ongoing control over that information”, she explained in the post.

“We also want individuals to have the opportunity to be given an unambiguous choice before Facebook start using that information and to be given the opportunity to change that decision at any point in the future,” Denham said.

“We think consumers deserve a greater level of information and protection, but so far Facebook and WhatsApp haven’t agreed. If Facebook starts using the data without valid consent, it may face enforcement action from my office.”

She added that the ICO is working with other data protection authorities, including the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, to tackle this issue.

For more information, see the ICO’s blog.


Photo © Jan Persiel (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cropped.

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