German Privacy Watchdog Prohibits Facebook from Processing WhatsApp User Data

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HmbBfDI) has imposed a three-month ban prohibiting Facebook from gathering and processing German WhatsApp users’data.

On Tuesday, the top German privacy watchdog told Facebook officials to stop processing user data from its instant messaging service, saying the app’s most recent privacy policy update that could violate EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“The order is intended to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the many millions of users throughout Germany who give their consent to the terms of use,” said Johannes Caspar, data protection commissioner in Hamburg. “It is important to prevent disadvantages and damages associated with such a black box procedure.”

The Data Regulator opened urgent proceedings last month due to concerns that users of the social media giant’s messaging app were required to agree to a new privacy policy by May 15 or stop using the app.

“The background to the proceedings is the request to all WhatsApp users to agree to the new terms and privacy policy by May 15, which grant WhatsApp far-reaching powers to share data with Facebook,” the HmbBfDI said in a press release.

The data commissioner also listed several concerns over the new terms and conditions that may broaden Facebooks’ data processing capability by allowing the company to access more user information.

“This concerns, among other things, the processing of location information, the transfer of communication data of users to third-party companies explicitly with reference to Facebook, the additional purpose of ensuring the integrity of the services, and the cross-company verification of the account in order to use the service in an ’appropriate manner,’” the HmbBfDIexplained.

WhatsApp denied these allegations. A company statement said the data regulator’s ruling “is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of WhatsApp’s update and therefore has no legitimate basis.” WhatsApp said the update is not related to an increase in data sharing and processing, and extends only to messages between customers and businesses.

Despite the allegations and ban, WhatsApp said it would not delay the scheduled rollout of its update.

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