The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has issued an administrative order that prohibits Facebook from collecting data from German WhatsApp users. Facebook was also ordered to delete any of the data that it may have already collected on German WhatsApp users.
The order comes after WhatsApp recently announced that it will automatically begin to share data with Facebook. Users were given the option to manually opt out of the data collection, but for a period of only a month. After that, they would no longer be able to opt out.
In the U.S., privacy groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) also filed a complaint with the FTC asking the agency to require Facebook to make the data collection an opt-in choice for users, rather than an opt-out one.
According to the Hamburg Commissioner, WhatsApp and Facebook used to be separate entities with their own privacy policies, and when Facebook acquired WhatsApp, it promised no data would be shared between the two. However, the two companies have now gone back on their promises by announcing they will begin to share data with each other, even when users opt out.
The commissioner said that this means the two companies were misleading users, and it’s also an infringement on Germany’s national Data Protection law. He also believes that Facebook should have required permission from every user in advance before collecting WhatsApp data. Data Protection laws in the European Union require that when data is collected, the user must give his or her explicit permission (opt-in) rather than implicit permission (opt-out).
"This administrative order protects the data of about 35 million WhatsApp users in Germany," said the Commissioner. "It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook. Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened," he added.
The order also accuses Facebook and WhatsApp of collecting contact details of users even if they didn’t have Facebook or WhatsApp accounts.
"According to Facebook, this gigantic amount of data has not yet been collected. Facebook's answer, that this has merely not been done for the time being, is cause for concern that the gravity of the data protection breach will have much a more severe impact," said the Hamburg Commissioner.