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Privacy Group Suing WhatsApp and Facebook over Data Sharing

A security message is seen on a Whatsapp screen in this illustration photo April 6, 2016. | Photo: Reuters A security message is seen on a Whatsapp screen in this illustration photo April 6, 2016. | Photo: Reuters
WhatsApp’s recent change of privacy settings has resulted in a major backlash from users and was called "unfair or deceptive acts or practices," according to the U.S.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which added that such a change violates a 2014 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consent order to both Facebook and the popular messaging app it purchased.

EPIC said that it had filed a complaint against Facebook and WhatsApp in 2014 when the social media giant bought the messaging app for more than US$14 billion, saying the deal would compromise users' private data despite promises by both companies that “nothing” would change.

According to the advocacy group, the FTC “responded by warning the two companies that they must honor their privacy promises to WhatsApp users. The letter explained that failure to obtain users' opt-in consent before changing data practices would be an unfair and deceptive trade practice and violate Facebook’s FTC Consent Order,” the group said in a press release.

WhatsApp announced changes to its privacy policy last week, with users' phone numbers to be shared with parent company Facebook to allow for more targeted advertising.

 

In a blog post announcing the move, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum said sharing user’s phone numbers with Facebook would give its users “more relevant” advertisements and friend suggestions, as well as help combat spam and abusive messages.

WhatsApp users were sent a notification with the application’s new terms of its privacy policy on Thursday. Users will have 30 days to accept or reject changes if they want to continuing using the messaging service.

Speaking to The New York Times, Marc Rotenberg, president of EPIC, said it would file a complaint this week with the FTC alleging that WhatsApp and Facebook are violating “Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and, potentially, the FTC's order against Facebook,” according to the FTC’s letter in 2014.

“Many users signed up for WhatsApp and not Facebook, precisely because WhatsApp offered, at the time, better privacy practices,” Rotenberg told the newspaper. “If the FTC does not bring an enforcement action, it means that even when users choose better privacy services, there is no guarantee their data will be protected.”

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