Does Facebook, WhatsApp deal violate privacy law?

Privacy advocates are worried that Facebook’s $16 billion purchase of the messaging app WhatsApp might break promises about users' privacy and could violate the law.

The concerns should prompt the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether or not the acquisition is "unfair and deceptive," the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy wrote in a complaint on Thursday.

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WhatsApp, which allows users to send messages like texts and images for a small yearly fee and no SMS charges, “built a user base based on its commitment not to collect user data for advertising revenue,” the organizations said in their complaint.

Facebook, on the other hand, has come under fire for using peoples’ preferences and information posted online to direct ads at them.

“The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users’ understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission,” they wrote.

The groups want the FTC to investigate whether Facebook will be able to access WhatsApp users’ data and halt the merger until the inquiry is resolved.

Facebook responded that the purchase, announced last month, won’t affect WhatsApp’s privacy policies and should not prompt federal oversight.

"Facebook's goal is to bring more connectivity and utility to the world by delivering core internet services efficiently and affordably – this partnership will help make that happen,” a spokesman said in a statement. “As we have said repeatedly, Whatsapp will operate as a separate company and will honor its commitments to privacy and security."

When WhatsApp announced that it was being purchased by Facebook last month, CEO Jan Koum maintained that it would “remain autonomous and operate independently.”

Last year, the Menlo Park, Calif., tech giant agreed to a settlement with the FTC over charges that it deceived people by making them believe their data would be kept private, when in fact it was shared and made public. The company is under a 20-year order to provide “clear and prominent notice" and get their permission before sharing information.