UK Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate WhatsApp-Facebook Data Sharing

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Yesterday, WhatsApp revealed plans to share the mobile numbers and last seen status of its users with parent company Facebook for ad-targeting and marketing purposes.

The UK’s data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued a statement announcing it intends to investigate the arrangement.

The ICO has responded to changes WhatsApp and Facebook are making to how they handle customers’ personal data.

Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said,

“The changes WhatsApp and Facebook are making will affect a lot of people. Some might consider it’ll give them a better service, others may be concerned by the lack of control.

“Our role is to pull back the curtain on things like this, ensuring that companies are being transparent with the public about how their personal data is being shared, and protecting consumers by making sure the law is being followed.

“We’ve been informed of the changes. Organisations do not need to get prior approval from the ICO to change their approaches, but they do need to stay within data protection laws. We are looking into this.”

WhatsApp has announced a change to its privacy policy which, once a user accepts its new T&Cs, will see it start to share some user data with its parent company.

“By coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp,” WhatsApp wrote.

“Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of.”

WhatsApp will also be sharing the data with the “Facebook family of companies” — so presumably its user data could also be fed to VR firm Oculus Rift and photo-sharing network Instagram.

WhatsApp data that will be shared under the new T&Cs includes the phone number a user used to verify their account, and the last time they used the service.

When asked about the ICO’s interest in its new privacy policy, a WhatsApp spokesperson commented,

“We look forward to answering any questions regulators or other stakeholders have about this update.”

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