WhatsApp’s new terms-of-service are causing quite a stir among privacy advocates. The company recently announced it would begin sharing user phone numbers, profile data, status message and online status with Facebook, its parent company — a change that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) claims violates a Federal Trade Commission consent order.
This announcement should be very concerning to WhatsApp users, who have been promised many times by both WhatsApp and Facebook that their privacy will be respected and protected,” said Claire T. Gartland, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
WhatsApp says it needs to share limited data with Facebook to test out new features designed to help users “communicate with business,” such as receiving fraud notifications from a bank or flight delays from airline companies.
The warnings over privacy concerns actually go back to 2014 when Facebook first acquired WhatsApp for approximately US$19.3 billion.
“Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, sent a letter to the companies during Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp warning the companies that the privacy promises made to WhatsApp users must be respected,” recalled EPIC’s Gartland.
“WhatsApp’s blog describes two different means of opting out of the proposed new sharing,” she noted, “and neither of these options appear consistent with Rich’s letter, which requires Facebook to get users’ affirmative consent before changing the way they use data collected via WhatsApp.”
Moreover, it does not appear as if WhatsApp even plans to secure what could be considered “meaningful, informed opt-in consent from its users to begin sharing this information with Facebook,” Gartland suggested.
Users also have up to 30 days to opt-out of the sharing portion of the new terms-of-service, but according to EPIC, that doesn’t protect the companies from the FTC’s consent order. The order apparently requires the company to obtain an opt-in consent before asking them to agree to the new terms. WhatsApp does technically offer an opt-in option, but it’s not clear how to access it: one must click “read” to view the terms-of-service agreement before the opt-in checkbox appears.