German privacy watchdog forbids Facebook to use WhatsApp data

The Hamburg privacy regulator has prohibited Facebook from using WhatsApp data from German users for its own purposes. According to the regulator, Facebook is claiming this right with the new WhatsApp terms of use.

It ban of the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information HmbBfDI is effective immediately and applies throughout Germany. The decision of the commissioner has to do with the changed terms of use of WhatsApp. These will take effect on May 15, users who disagree will eventually be banned from the platform.

WhatsApp and Facebook have always said that in the field of data sharing nothing will change for European users, due to European regulations. WhatsApp will store and use transaction data from users outside the EU for payment services. Data of non-European users who contact companies via WhatsApp is also shared with Facebook.

According to the HmbBfDI, the amended conditions also state, among other things, that Facebook can use the WhatsApp data to connect to other Facebook services and that the company is interested in the data of young people. In addition, an earlier report is that WhatsApp messages are not shared with Facebook and are visibly removed by others.

‘The terms are misleading and contain contradictions’Although the commissioner acknowledges that Facebook says that the data will not be used for the purposes described, he also believes that the conditions for using the data are not transparent. The HmbBfDI believes that the data sharing could still be implemented step by step under the new conditions with the given consent. In addition, he says that it is unclear which conditions apply to Europeans and which apply to other users. In addition, the conditions would contradict and mislead each other. Ultimately, it would therefore not be clear what consequences it would have if users gave their consent.

Apart from the substantive conditions, the Commissioner is also not satisfied with how users should give consent. Giving permission is a condition to be able to use WhatsApp, which, according to the commissioner, is not free permission, which is mandatory under the GDPR.

According to the Commissioner, Facebook’s actions therefore do not comply with the GDPR, both in terms of data sharing that are currently performed according to the terms of use and in terms of future data sharing. That is why the commissioner is introducing the prohibition, ‘to prevent disadvantages and damage’.

The ban is the result of the urgent procedure that the privacy watchdog started in April. According to the rules of such an urgent procedure, the ban may be valid for a maximum of three months. That is why the watchdog is also going to the European Data Protection Board EDPB to be able to make it a permanent, European decision.

In a comment to EuroNews, among others WhatsApp reports that the claims of the HmbBfDI are incorrect. WhatsApp will therefore not stop with the new terms of use. The regulator’s decision would be based on a “fundamental misunderstanding,” WhatsApp says.