Facebook has been forced to postpone a controversial data sharing agreement with WhatsApp after a UK privacy probe.
The scheme would have let Facebook-owned WhatsApp hand out information on all of its users to Facebook, letting the social network giant use data about people’s chats to inform its advertising.
It would also have let companies to send WhatsApp’s to people based on things they’ve bought on Facebook.
However, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has told the company that it needs to bring that arrangement to an end because it does not have “valid consent” from its users.
Facebook had looked to gain permission from its users to have their data used as part of the deal. But there was no real way of opting out – people could only do so within a short period of time, and even if users did opt out then some information would still be shared.
The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is now eight weeks into its own probe, but that pressure has paid off: Facebook has agreed to pause data collection from UK WhatsApp users.
In a statement on the ICO’s website, Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner, explained the reasons for the probe: “I had concerns that consumers weren’t being properly protected, and it’s fair to say the enquiries my team have made haven’t changed that view. I don’t think users have been given enough information about what Facebook plans to do with their information, and I don’t think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information. I also believe users should be given ongoing control over how their information is used, not just a 30 day window.”
While Facebook has stopped using WhatsApp data for “advertisements or product improvement purposes” in the UK for the time being (it’s not clear how this will affect European users), the ICO isn’t stopping there. It’s asked the company to sign an “undertaking” that lays out how it will collect and use data and give users “ongoing control” over what is shared. “We think consumers deserve a greater level of information and protection, but so far Facebook and WhatsApp haven’t agreed, said Denham. “If Facebook starts using the data without valid consent, it may face enforcement action from my office.”