Facebook’s WhatsApp hiccup hinges on privacy for mobile users

loss of privacy erasedFacebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp is still getting a lot of attention, but this time it’s not about rumors of another company offering more for the messaging service, it’s about user privacy.

Facebook is known for exploiting its users’ data without enough transparency back to the end user, and the social networking giant has gotten a lot of heat because of this apparent disregard for user privacy. And this is what’s concerning others for the fate of WhatsApp.

The Facebook Fate


The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, stating that the privacy of WhatsApp’s users are at risk of being exploited.

For those who aren’t using WhatsApp, the service only needs your phone number to use the service.  Then it will ask you if you want to allow the service to access your photos, location, contacts list, but it doesn’t ask for any  other personal information.  It has built a reputation based on its ability to stay away from user’s data.  Many have already raised the question of privacy when the acquisition was announced, but WhatsApp and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were adamant that the deal will not change anything about the service, even going so far as to say WhatsApp won’t be getting ads.

Still, we’re talking about Facebook here, a social network that’s now a publicly traded stock with shareholders to consider and revenue to generate. So there is cause for concern.

The complaint is asking the FTC to look into whether the acquisition will give Facebook access to WhatsApp users’ data, if it will be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits “deceptive trade practices.” This is a category that can include companies that don’t follow their published privacy policies, such as if WhatsApp starts providing Facebook with its user data and not updating their privacy policy.

“WhatsApp users could not reasonably have anticipated that by selecting a pro-privacy messaging service, they would subject their data to Facebook’s data collection practices,” reads the complaint.  The complainants are also asking the FTC to differ the deal until it has been made clear what the relationship between the two companies mean for users’ privacy.

photo: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc