Groups push for probe of WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing

Groups push for probe of WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing
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Privacy groups pushed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday to investigate WhatsApp’s decision to share user data with Facebook.

“We are deeply concerned about the impact this proposed change in data practices will have on the privacy and security of WhatsApp users in the U.S. and across the world,” said the groups in a letter to the FTC’s chairwoman and commissioners.

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“We urge the FTC to investigate this matter and to fulfill its obligation to prevent WhatsApp and Facebook from engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices.”

The letter follows a complaint from two of the groups over the decision by WhatsApp to share some user data with its parent company, social network giant Facebook. Users can opt out of the data sharing.

The letter is signed by groups including Demand Progress and Consumer Watchdog. 

The privacy advocates say that the companies are violating an expectation set forth when Facebook bought WhatsApp that the messaging platform “must continue to honor these [privacy] promises to consumers.” They also say that they are violating an earlier agreement over user privacy between Facebook and the FTC.

The company has pushed back on the complaint.

“WhatsApp complies with applicable laws,” a spokesperson for the application said when it was initially filed. “As always, we consider our obligations when designing updates like this.”

A spokesperson for the FTC declined to comment on the letter. At an event on Thursday in New York, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez declined to say whether the agency was investigating Facebook and WhatsApp, according to a Politico report, but reiterated that it broadly expects companies to “abide” by their commitments.

WhatsApp is immensely popular around the world and has made user privacy a tenant of its brand. But Facebook’s business is built on targeting ads to users based on their data, which is one way the data from WhatsApp is expected to be used.