A German governmental agency just laid down the law on WhatsApp.
A month after the messaging giant made a controversial decision to share member information with parent company Facebook, Hamburg’s data protection commissioner has weighed in on the controversy. And unsurprisingly, it has taking the side of angry consumers who worry that their privacy is at risk with these new practices. In a decision issued Tuesday, Commissioner Johannes Caspar stated, “The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has issued an administrative order that prohibits Facebook with immediate effect to collect and store data of German WhatsApp users. Facebook is also ordered to delete all data that has already been forwarded by WhatsApp.”
This marks the first time that a government agency has taken a stance on WhatsApp’s August announcement (though it’s not likely to be the last). Noting that Facebook “neither has obtained an effective approval from the WhatsApp users, nor does a legal basis for the data reception exist,” the Commission further concluded that Facebook would have to ask for user permission to collect data in advance. “This has not happened,” the commission wrote.
The decision to share user information with Facebook came as a surprise to many WhatsApp users, who have long applauded the messaging platform for the value it placed on privacy and encryption. Indeed, WhatsApp has previously come under fire for not sharing information with law enforcement officials, the New York Times points out.
WhatsApp is still trying its best to assure users that nothing has changed, however, with Jan Koum, one of WhatsApp’s founders, blogging last month, “Our focus is the same as it’s always been — giving you a fast, simple, and reliable way to stay in touch with friends and loved ones around the world.” Users and the Hamburg data protection commissioner alike apparently aren’t so sure.