Jul 15, 2021
Laura Berrill

Watchdog rejects ban on Facebook processing WhatsApp data

The EU’s privacy watchdog rejects call by Germany’s data protection regulator for ban on Facebook’s processing of personal data from WhatsApp

The regulator based in Hamburg had said it was banning the social network from processing personal data from WhatsApp users because it viewed its new terms as illegal. However despite the rejection, the UE regulator in Ireland has been told to investigate. WhatsApp said the action had no legitimate basis and would not impact the rollout of the update.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB), a forum that groups regulators from the bloc’s 27 member states, said today that the conditions to demonstrate the existence of an infringement had not been met and it has decided no final measures need to be adopted against Facebook.

Possible extension to user data collection freeze

However it said that the three-month freeze on WhatsApp’s collection of user data could be extended. And it added that due to contradictions, ambiguities and uncertainties noted in WhatsApp’s user-facing information, it was not in a position to determine with certainty which processing operations Facebook was carrying out and in which capacities.

There was also not enough information to establish with certainty whether Facebook had started to process WhatsApp user data for its own purposes of marketing communications and direct marketing. As a result, the EDPB asked Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) to open a statutory investigation as a matter of priority.

Past proceedings on data protection

The Irish DPC leads oversight of Facebook because the company’s European headquarters are based in Ireland. It had 14 major inquiries into the social media giant and its WhatsApp and Instagram subsidiaries open as of the end of last year.

In May, a German privacy watchdog banned Facebook from gathering data on users of the chat app, citing an update to its privacy policy that it said breaches stringent European data protection rules. And in April, the watchdog opened urgent proceedings because of concerns that WhatsApp users were being required to agree to the update by the middle of May or would not be able to continue to use the service. WhatsApp denied the update was connected with any expansion of data sharing with Facebook, saying it is related only to messages between businesses and customers.



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