Germany issues emergency data collection ban against Facebook over WhatsApp rules [Updated]

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 2,971   +790
Staff member
A hot potato: Germany has banned Facebook from collecting data on WhatsApp users within its borders. The Hamburg Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HmbBfDI) commission claims that the app's new data collection policies and Facebook's heavy-handed efforts to get users to accept them violate the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Update (05/13/21): A WhatsApp spokesman reached out to TechSpot to clarify that the Hamburg DPA order does not impact the WhatsApp update as the DPA is raising concerns about data processing by Facebook that is not currently happening, and is not planned as part of this update.

Johannes Caspar, the commissioner of the HmbBfDI, indicated in a press release that Facebook has a history of user-privacy abuse, pointing to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the recent leak of 500 million records. More urgently, Caspar fears that WhatsApp's less than transparent advertising policies will influence German elections coming up in September.

"The data protection scandals of the last few years from 'Cambridge Analytica' to the data leak that recently became known, which affected more than 500 million Facebook users, show the extent and the dangers of massive profiling," said Caspar. "This affects not only privacy but also the possibility of using profiles to influence voter decisions in order to manipulate democratic decisions. In view of the nearly 60 million WhatsApp users with a view to the upcoming federal elections in Germany in September 2021, the risk is all the more concrete, as these will arouse desires after influencing the opinion-forming of Facebook's advertisers."

The HmbBfDI has issued a three-month emergency injunction on WhatsApp's data collection. In the meantime, it has asked the European Data Protection Committee (EDPC) to decide the case at the "European level." If the EDPC finds that WhatsApp violates the GDPR, a more permanent ban that applies to member states, as well as Germany, will likely go into effect until WhatsApp changes its policies.

Facebook denies any wrongdoing. A spokesperson told Bloomberg the commission's emergency order is based on a "fundamental misunderstanding" of WhatsApp's terms and conditions. Facebook intends to roll out the new rules despite the ban.

After attempting to downplay its data collection policy, Facebook threatened to delete users accounts if they did not agree to the terms. However, after severe backlash, the social media giant dialed back the threat, opting to bombard the user with nagging consent popups instead. Continuing to ignore the "reminders" would result in the app gradually losing key features until it was all but useless. Users have until May 15 to agree to the new conditions.

This is not the first time Caspar has butted heads with WhatsApp. In 2016, the commissioner demanded Facebook stop collecting user data from WhatsApp. In that case, Facebook worked with Germany to iron things out. It does not appear that the social media platform is willing to cooperate this time.

Image credit: Siraj Ahmad

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psycros

Posts: 3,458   +4,025
I'd like to see a very large poll of Facebook users who own their own devices that asks this question: would they pay $5 a month to use the service without ads and with opt-*in* anonymous profiling? I bet you at least 25% would say yes. The social network that offers this as well as full importing of Facebook data would probably become a fairly serious #2 in this business.
 

Watzupken

Posts: 201   +178
I feel people should just vote with their actions by not using WhatsApp/ Facebook. Facebook is obviously trying to capitalize on people's unwillingness to switch out of WhatsApp and holding you hostage with all these changes, I.e. accept that they will collect your data, or you cannot use it. They are after all, a data collecting/ mining/ selling company, so I am not expecting them to stop doing it unless we stop using their applications.
 

Nobina

Posts: 3,050   +2,846
I feel people should just vote with their actions by not using WhatsApp/ Facebook. Facebook is obviously trying to capitalize on people's unwillingness to switch out of WhatsApp and holding you hostage with all these changes, I.e. accept that they will collect your data, or you cannot use it. They are after all, a data collecting/ mining/ selling company, so I am not expecting them to stop doing it unless we stop using their applications.
People collectively never do **** they should be doing. Has been like that since the beggining of time. Most don't know about FB tracking or are just not concerned about it.
 

Avro Arrow

Posts: 1,256   +1,386
TechSpot Elite
Oh boy! Get out the popcorn, sit back and wait for the show to begin!

If Facebook thinks that the EC is going to have the same limp-dink reaction to a private corporation ignoring their laws like the US government does, well, they're going to get the same rude awakening that Intel did. NATO countries that aren't the USA don't have the same blind worship of capitalism and corporations that the USA does and will think nothing of using draconian measures against corporations that violate their laws.

After all, if a corporation willfully and deliberately violates the law, they cease to be a legitimate business and become just another form of organised crime. The EC recognises this and treats them as such.
 
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Richard M

Posts: 15   +57
The problem is that most people just do not care and of the ones that do care a good percentage of those have given up the privacy fight as already lost.
 

mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,840   +1,068
Facebook denies any wrongdoing. A spokesperson told Bloomberg the commission's emergency order is based on a "fundamental misunderstanding" of WhatsApp's terms and conditions. Facebook intends to roll out the new rules despite the ban.
Considering Facebook wrote those terms and conditions, this sounds like a "Facebook Problem" not an "EU problem". If there T&C is being misunderstood by Germany's lawyers and politicians who wrote and enforce the laws, then it sounds like Facebook failed to write a T&C that fits within those laws.
 

VariableSpike

Posts: 48   +61
I think that FB will eventually give up this fight, especially as the EU fine for GDPR breaches can be up to 4% of global revenue, which is not a small amount of money, and this is certainly a heavy topic for the EU that they won't let go easily
 
I can't wait to see how this will play out. App store also forbids apps from limiting functionality because of user denying privacy permissions. So let's see if Facebook will play ball or pull an Epic on Apple.