Germany orders WhatsApp to stop sharing user data with Facebook

Even though Facebook owns popular messaging tool WhatsApp, a German watchdog doesn't think it should share data.
Written by Jake Smith, Contributor
CBS Interactive / CNET

A German privacy regulator ordered Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Tuesday to stop sharing collected user data with Facebook and for the social network to delete data already collected from the 35 million WhatsApp users within the country.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information said Facebook and WhatsApp are independent companies that process their users' data on the basis of their own Terms and Conditions and Data Privacy Policies. Thus, Facebook shouldn't be able to collect the data for its own services.

"This administrative order protects the data of about 35 million WhatsApp users in Germany. It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook," Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, said in a statement. "Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened."

Further, Caspar said Facebook and WhatsApp previously assured customers data wouldn't be shared between the two companies, after the $19 billion deal completed.

See also: How to stop WhatsApp from sharing your data with Facebook

WhatsApp began notifying users in August that their data would be shared with Facebook by default for better targeted advertisements. WhatsApp also announced plans to connect businesses and users for revenue, as opposed to display advertising.

Luckily, the data sharing can be disabled.

Facebook, who has its German offices in Hamburg, told Reuters it will appeal Caspar's ruling.

"We will appeal this order and we will work with the Hamburg DPA in an effort to address their questions and resolve any concerns," Facebook said in a statement to Reuters.

Germany regulators may not be Facebook's only problem. Reuters reported on Tuesday that Italy's data privacy watchdog has also opened a probe into WhatsApp's data sharing with Facebook.

Facebook has run into regulatory trouble in Europe before. In November 2015, a Belgian court ordered Facebook to stop tracking non-Facebook web users through social plugins on third-party websites.

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