German regulator moves to halt WhatsApp data collection

German regulator halts WhatsApp data collection

Germany’s top data protection agency is seeking to take action against Facebook to stop collecting personal data from users of the WhatsApp messaging app. The regulator from Germany’s city of Hamburg is seeking an immediate order over concerns that changes to Facebook’s privacy policy could lead to data being collected and used for more extensive purposes such as marketing and advertising.

“WhatsApp is now used by almost 60 million people in Germany and is by far the most widely used social media application, even ahead of Facebook,” said Hamburg’s data protection officer Johannes Casper. “We have reason to believe that the data sharing policy between WhatsApp and Facebook is being impermissibly enforced due to the lack of voluntary and informed consent.”

Casper said he was starting a formal procedure “to prevent an illegal mass exchange of data,” intending to decide before May 15.

WhatsApp had intended to release changes to their new privacy policy earlier in the year, but delayed publishing after users of the popular messaging app voiced concerns. 

In response to the growing policy concerns, Facebook said, “To be clear, by accepting WhatsApp’s updated terms of service, users are not agreeing to any expansion of our ability to share data with Facebook, and the update does not impact the privacy of their messages with friends or family wherever they are in the world.”

Facebook will have the opportunity to respond to the concerns at a hearing, the regulator said.

Users have become increasingly aware of how their data is being used in chat applications. Many users are opting to move to more privacy-focused chat apps such as Telegram and Signal.

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