Some groups are beginning to voice their concern regarding Facebook’s massive $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, a small 55-employee company in California.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) are worried that Facebook will use WhatsApp’s large amount of private data belonging to its 450 million users.
EPIC and CDD have filed a joint complaint with the FTC urging the oversight group to look into the deal and smooth out privacy concerns prior to letting the acquisition go through.
Both groups are particularly concerned with how Facebook with treat WhatsApp’s users if it takes over. Even though WhatsApp has taken a pro-user stance thus far and has refused to collect user data for advertisement purposes, Facebook would have no obligation to operate in the same way.
WhatsApp built a user base based on its commitment not to collect user data for advertising revenue…Acting in reliance on WhatsApp representations, Internet users provided detailed personal information to the company including private text to close friends. – EPIC and CDD
European Union (EU) officials are also worried about the deal and since regulators in Europe are historically tougher on tech companies, the deal may face scrutiny there even if the FTC does not get involved.
A group of privacy officials in Europe called the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party have the same view of the WhatsApp acquisition as EPIC and CDD. Jacob Kohnstamm, who leads the Party, told Bloomberg that it would be tempting to use WhatsApp’s user data for other reasons and given Facebook’s stance on user data, there may be a reason for scrutiny.
According to Facebook’s official policy, it does not share personal or identifying data with advertisers unless allowed to do so. However, this policy has frequently been a topic of debate and WhatsApp’s access to user contact lists would be very lucrative if Facebook were to use it for ads.
Summary: Privacy groups have filed a joint complaint with the FTC regarding Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp. Along with European officials, these groups are worried that Facebook will exploit the personal user data that WhatsApp has access to.
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