Information Commissioner Criticizes Facebook Over Whatsapp Data Sharing

The Information Commissioner has criticised Facebook over its arrangements for sharing customer information with Whatsapp saying that she was concerned consumers “weren’t being properly protected.”

Publishers and editors met with  Elizabeth Denham at a lunch hosted by the News Media Association on Friday, and discussed key issues affecting the industry including the impact of aggregators and social giants on news media publishers.  

Writing on her blog this week, the Information Commissioner said: “We all rely on digital services for important parts of our lives, whether it’s keeping in touch with loved ones or doing our weekly shop. But our digital comings and goings create rich portraits of our lives, and vague terms of service when we sign up aren’t giving us the protection we need.

“It’s a particular concern when company mergers mean that vast amounts of customers’ personal data become an asset to be bought and sold. We’re seeing situations where companies are being  bought primarily for this data, and when it is combined with information the purchasing company already holds, there’s a danger that consumers will have little control as datasets are matched and intrusive details revealed.

“It’s a problem that is broader than data protection, and we’re speaking with industry, competition regulators and consumer groups to see how we can make people clearer on the law. We’ll be publishing a report on this in the new year, outlining our concerns and discussing solutions.”

The Information Commissioner said her office had decided eight weeks ago to look into the approach WhatsApp had decided to take in sharing customer information with Facebook and, asa result, Facebook had agreed to pause its usage of data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes .

She wrote: “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. 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.

“It’s important that we have control over our personal information, even if services don’t charge us a fee. We might agree to a company using our information in a certain way in return for us getting a service for free, but if that information is then exploited more than agreed, for a purpose we don’t like, then we’re entitled to be concerned.

“We’ve set out the law clearly to Facebook, and we’re pleased that they’ve agreed to pause using data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes.”