WhatsApp-Facebook data-sharing deal to be investigated

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 29 August 2016

Hot on the heels of WhatsApp revealing its plans to share the mobile numbers and the status of its users with parent company Facebook for marketing and ad targeting, the UK’s The Information Commissioner has announced it will be investigating the move.

In a statement the UK information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, said: “The changes WhatsApp and Facebook are making will affect a lot of people. Some might consider it’ll give them a better service, others may be concerned by the lack of control.

“Our role is to pull back the curtain on things like this, ensuring that companies are being transparent with the public about how their personal data is being shared, and protecting consumers by making sure the law is being followed.

“We’ve been informed of the changes. Organisations do not need to get prior approval from the ICO to change their approaches, but they do need to stay within data protection laws. We are looking into this.”

Denham joined the watchdog in July this year and her previous work in Canada included investigations into information access shortfalls by the British Columbia government and a wide-reaching investigation into Facebook’s privacy policies.

According to TechCrunch, a WhatsApp spokesperson said it’s looking forward to answering any questions regulators or other stakeholders have about the update.

A security expert on TechCrunch said the question that any regulator will be asking is whether or not the new policies and the way in which you opt into them — or opt out of them — is expressed in clear to the average user.

In a WhatsApp blog post last week it said: “By connecting your phone number with Facebook's systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you've never heard of.”

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