WhatsApp Policy Change Highlights Privacy Risks EPIC Warned of in Facebook Acquisition

January 15, 2021

Recently unveiled changes to WhatsApp's terms of service highlight the privacy and legal objections has EPIC long raised to Facebook's 2014 acquisition of the messaging platform. In early January, WhatsApp introduced a revision to its privacy policy that seemed to require app users to share extensive personal data with Facebook—an apparent violation of the privacy protections that originally fueled WhatsApp's growth. The policy change drove many WhatsApp users to turn to other secure messaging platforms including Signal and Telegram. WhatsApp later delayed the revision of its terms of service by several months and argued that the change only affected "business communication," but the episode underscores the dangers of a company built on the exploitation of personal data acquiring a company that has made explicit privacy commitments to its users. In 2014, EPIC and the Center for Digital Democracy warned the FTC that Facebook routinely incorporates user data from companies it acquires and that WhatsApp users objected to the acquisition. The FTC approved the merger but told EPIC and CDD that "if the acquisition is completed and WhatsApp fails to honor these promises, both companies could be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act and potentially the FTC's order against Facebook."

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