Privacy groups file complaint over WhatsApp data sharing

Privacy groups file complaint over WhatsApp data sharing
© Getty Images

Two privacy groups on Monday filed a federal complaint over WhatsApp’s decision to share consumer data with parent company Facebook.

WhatsApp announced last week that it was planning to provide information about its users for Facebook's targeted advertising unless users choose to opt out. In a complaint filed Monday with the Federal Trade Commission, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy that the change betrays previous promises Facebook has made on privacy.


“When Facebook acquired WhatsApp, WhatsApp made a commitment to its users, to the Federal Trade Commission, and to privacy authorities around the world not to disclose user data to Facebook,” said EPIC President Marc Rotenberg in a statement. “Now they have broken that commitment.”

Specifically, the complaint invokes the FTC’s jurisdiction to police unfair and deceptive practices, as well as a 2012 agreement between Facebook and the agency that the company would take certain steps to protect user privacy.

Central to their case is a long history of WhatsApp making privacy a core part of its brand. The company now makes end-to-end encryption the default setting for its users, for example, and over the years has said that it is not interested in leveraging its customers’ info.

The messaging platform reached a billion users this year. Facebook bought it in 2014 for $19 billion.

"We look forward to answering any questions regulators or other stakeholders have about this update," said a WhatsApp spokesperson in a statement. "We’ve made our terms and privacy policy easily accessible, provided an overview of the key updates, and empowered people to make decisions that are right for them, including offering a control for existing users over how their data can be used."

A spokesperson for the FTC declined to comment beyond confirming that the agency had received the complaint.

Updated at 5:32 p.m.