Facebook banned from gathering Whatsapp users data in Germany

To help better serve users of the WhatsApp messaging app, Facebook recently implemented a number of changes to the terms and conditions associated with the service. The new policy addresses information sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook – anyone who continues to use the app agrees to having some of their personal data sent back to Facebook for analysis and marketing purposes.

Concerned about potential abuses of this new sharing agreement, a German regulator has stepped in, forcing Facebook to put their plans on hold. Facebook has been ordered to stop sharing the information of their German users. They have also been forced to delete any data that has already been transferred from WhatsApp.

According to the data commissioner for Hamburg who issued the stop order, the 30 million German people currently using WhatsApp should have the option of whether or not they want to connect their account to Facebook. By forcing every WhatsApp user to make the link, users are deprived of the choice.

Which is apparently illegal under German data protection laws.

What is Facebook doing?

According to the new user agreement, Facebook is collecting a few specific details from WhatsApp – the names and numbers of people contained in your address book, who you call, and how long you speak for. They claim that this information can then be used to put WhatsApp users in touch with “relevant” businesses, and to help improve suggested friend recommendations on the Facebook social network.

Facebook has assured users that they will not be selling these details to advertisers, or sharing personal data publicly.

Don’t panic yet

WhatsApp and Facebook have stated that their data collection and sharing programmes are entirely legal – both at EU and local government levels. But following the German announcement, information commissioners in the UK and the US have also voiced concerns about the deal. Neither has yet confirmed whether there will be any further investigations or sanctions however.

For WhatsApp users, this all sounds pretty scary. Facebook’s disclosure seems fairly straightforward – but government reactions reveal the complexities of managing and controlling personal data in the social media age.

It is extremely important to note that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook have access to your calls or messages sent using the app however. Every communication is encrypted between you and the recipient so no one, including Facebook, can listen in.

Which means that even if Facebook changes their data sharing policies again in future, your most sensitive conversations will not be used in any way.

Time to tighten control of your personal data

The WhatsApp data sharing row is a timely reminder that your personal data is valuable, and it is being shared between providers. If you haven’t read every word of the terms and conditions for every app installed on your smartphone, you probably don’t know which are doing it though.
You can regain some of that control using Panda Mobile Security. This Android anti-virus app not only detects malware, but it also allows you to control the data access permissions for every app you have installed. You can control who can access your data, reducing the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft – or the target of determined advertisers and sales people!