Facebook-WhatsApp deal raises data protection questions

Friday, February 21, 2014

"It is expected that it will be a change in terms for how Whatsapp uses people's data similar to the sort of integration that is now seen with Instagram."

By Hajer M`tiri

ANKARA - Facebook, the largest social-network`s latest US$19 billion dollars deal to acquire the mobile free messaging service WhatsApp, raised many questions about how safe users`s personal data will be.

Only a day after the announcement of the deal, a German data protection regulator urged WhatsApp users to switch to "a more secure, even paid, messaging service", citing Facebook’s cooperation with the National Security Agency (NSA) and its loose U.S. data protection laws. He said that the deal could raise important data protection issues once the two companies' data is merged.

"The obvious conclusion is that the intention behind this deal is to combine the data these two businesses collect," said the director of the British civil liberties and privacy pressure group, Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch (BBW) speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA).

The BBW director said that the only way it can justify Facebook corporation spending so much on an application is if it thinks "the value of the data it can capture is greater." He explained that Facebook will want to leverage as muchWhatsapp data as it can, potentially combining it with Facebook messaging data "to build a more complete picture of who you are talking to."

Pickles said that "it is expected that it will be a change in terms of how Whatsapp uses people's data similar to the sort of integration that is now seen with Instagram."

Facebook, which has more than 1.2 billion members, said it will keep WhatsApp as a separate service, just as it did with Instagram, which it bought for about US$715.3 million back in 2012.

WhatsApp which now has 450 million monthly users, states in its privacy policy that it will not sell or share user’s personal information such as their mobile phone numbers with other third-party companies for any kind of commercial or marketing use without the user’s consent.

However, the company may share that information with third party service providers “to the extent that it is reasonably necessary to perform, improve or maintain the WhatsApp Service.”

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