The ICO has ruled that WhatsApps’ data sharing policy with Facebook was illegal

The UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO) has closed its investigation into the data sharing between Facebook and it’s messaging app WhatsApp, concluding that neither platform shares data with one another in any way other than the lawful processing of basic data.

A summary of the enquiry

WhatsApp was ordered to suspend its sharing of personal data with its parent company, Facebook, back in November 2016 following the launch of the official enquiry that August. The ICO was driven to commence the review of WhatsApps’ data sharing activities after the messaging app made an update to its privacy policy indicating that it would begin sharing its user’s data with Facebook. As part of its long-running enquiry, the ICO did, in fact, resolve that if WhatsApp had proceeded with it’s intended data sharing, it would have been flouting both the first and second principles of the Data Protection Act and would, therefore, have been acting illegally. This is because it had failed to adequately inform its users about the processing and sharing of their personal data, as well as having proposed to process the personal data in a manner that did not correspond with the original purpose for which it had been obtained.

As a result of the investigation, WhatsApp does not face a fine from the ICO but it has been obliged to sign an agreement that it will not share personal data with Facebook until the two platforms have mutually come up with a way of doing so which is compliant with the GDPR, coming into effect in May this year.

What does this mean for Marketers?

The message that this sends to big tech companies and marketing professionals is that they will be expected to exhibit accountability and full transparency when extracting personal data from their users/customers from now on. It also sets the stage for the rest of the EU whose own Data Protection bodies will no doubt follow suit; both France and Germany are currently undergoing similar investigations concerning the behaviour of WhatsApp and Facebook themselves.

WhatsApp released an official statement regarding the enquiry in which it said:

“WhatsApp cares deeply about the privacy of our users. We collect very little data and every message is end-to-end encrypted. As we’ve repeatedly made clear for the last year, we are not sharing data in the ways that the UK Information Commissioner has said she is concerned about anywhere in Europe.”

 

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