Facebook is banned from collecting WhatsApp data in Germany
Facebook is banned from collecting WhatsApp data in Germany

A German data protection official banned Facebook today (Tuesday) from collecting data about WhatsApp users in the country as part of a three-month emergency ban.

He pointed to an update to the privacy policy that violated strict data protection rules in the European Union by allowing access to a large amount of information about users of the chat app.

WhatsApp is used by nearly 60 million users in Germany.

Hamburg's data protection official said he took the move because WhatsApp users had to agree to the new terms by May 15, which enabled him to expand his options for sharing data with Facebook.

Hamburg's Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Johannes Kaspar, said in a statement: “The regulation aims to protect the rights and freedoms of millions of users who have accepted the terms of use.

He added that during the transfer of data, WhatsApp users are exposed to vague, very broad and inconsistent terms, indicating that users cannot freely accept the changes because WhatsApp forces them to accept them in order to continue to use the service until they are able to do so.

The private Facebook platform denied that the update was related to expanding data exchange with Facebook, stressing that the update was only related to messages between the company and customers.

Facebook accused the Hamburg data protection authority of misunderstanding the purpose of the update and made it clear that the ban had no legal basis.

"This issue is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and implications of updating WhatsApp," Facebook said in a statement. So there is no legal basis. Since the statement of the regulatory authority in Hamburg is incorrect, this will not affect the deployment of the update. We always strive to provide secure private communications for everyone.

WhatsApp first tried to provide updates earlier this year. However, after a wave of confusion and misinformation among users, WhatsApp backed down and many of its users turned to rival chat apps like Signal and Telegram.

Facebook defended the confidentiality provisions by stating that it would not breach the confidentiality of messages exchanged with friends and family. However, the goal is to help the company better communicate with customers via the platform, in particular by enabling them to sell products directly.

Taking the upcoming parliamentary elections on September 26 in Germany as an example, organizers said the decision aims to protect user privacy and avoid using data to influence voters' choices to manipulate democratic decisions.

The regulator is now referring the case to the European Data Protection Commission, which is responsible for enforcing the rules across the European Union.

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