WhatsApp says no to sharing with parent Facebook

The Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK has announced WhatsApp has agreed not to share user information with parent-company Facebook until the process is compliant with GDPR.

After an investigation the ICO concluded the sharing of any information between the two organizations was contrary to the first and second data protection principles of the Data Protection Act. WhatsApp has not to date found a lawful way of sharing information with Facebook, while the investigation also states it has not provided enough information to users in relation to any such sharing of personal data.

“I am pleased to state that WhatsApp has now signed an ‘undertaking’ wherein they have given a public commitment not to share personal data with Facebook until they can do so in compliance with the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May this year,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “I reached the conclusion that an undertaking was the most effective regulatory tool for me to use, given the circumstances of the case.”

During the course of the investigation WhatsApp has maintained it has not shared any information with its parent company, which is lucky in the sense the ICO said it would have been very illegal. The issue here seems to be focused around the idea that WhatsApp and Facebook did not seek permission to share personal information from the users. Back when WhatsApp tried to rewrite T&Cs to allow for such practices, the team told users they were doing it as opposed to seeking permission. This would not be deemed appropriate under current data protection rules or the upcoming GDPR.

This is of course not a deal which means WhatsApp will never share data with its parent-company. Once it finds a way to do so without being fined or sued it will do freely and without any concern as to what public opinion is. WhatsApp will at some point contribute to the Facebook advertising machine, it is just figuring out when and how.

Investigations throughout Europe will continue against Facebook and WhatsApp, though at least in the UK the pair seemed to have satisfied the privacy and data protection concerns of regulators. The more privacy-sensitive might be a bit more difficult to satisfy, so it might be worth keeping an eye on Germany.

Elsewhere in the Facebook universe, the team has taken the decision to ban Britain First and the social media accounts of its two leaders. Stating the group continually broke community standards, the move is a win for advocacy groups who have accused Britain First of stirring up hatred through social media.

“There are times though when legitimate political speech crosses the line and becomes hate speech designed to stir up hatred against groups in our society,” Facebook said in a blog post. “This is an important issue which we take very seriously and we have written about how we define hate speech and take action against it in our Hard Questions series. We have Community Standards that clearly state this sort of speech is not acceptable on Facebook and, when we become aware of it, we remove it as quickly as we can.”

While we are pleased with the move, it is also a bit of a surprise. The social media giants have taken more of a hands-off approach to date, but maybe this is the first sign of changing trends.

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