Facebook ordered to stop collecting data on German WhatsApp users

An emergency ban will be in place for three months.

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3D printed Whatsapp and Facebook logos are placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration taken January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Dado Ruvic / reuters

A German regulator claims Facebook's attempt to make WhatsApp users agree to data collection practices under an updated privacy policy isn’t legal. As a result, the regulator has ordered Facebook to stop collecting data from WhatsApp users in the country under a three-month emergency ban.

The head of the Hamburg privacy authority, Johannes Casper, said the updated terms are overly broad, inconsistent and not transparent. He suggested Facebook might already be mishandling data and that it was vital to stop potential misuse from affecting the German election later this year. Caspar has asked European Union regulators to weigh in and issue a ruling that would cover all EU member states. He previously ordered Facebook to stop data collection from WhatsApp users in 2016 and to delete whatever information it had gathered.

Facebook denounced Caspar’s claims. It told Bloomberg the order is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding” about the aims and impact of the updated terms. Facebook said the ban won’t stop it from rolling out the new rules.

WhatsApp users will need to agree to the terms by May 15. Facebook pushed back the deadline from February 8th amid “confusion” and “misinformation” about the updated policy and to give users more time to review it. Although Facebook said it was committed to end-to-end encryption for messages in WhatsApp, the policy will enable it to share certain data from the service with other parts of its business. That includes phone numbers, transaction data, mobile device info, IP addresses and other details.

Officials in Germany have been at loggerheads with Facebook for years over issues such as privacy and the company's attempts to merge user data from across its various services. The latest ban comes amid deeper scrutiny of major social media companies by regulators around the world. In December, the Federal Trade Commission asked Facebook, WhatsApp and seven other social media and streaming video services to explain their privacy policies and how they handle user data.

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