Privacy Groups File Complaint Over Facebook, WhatsApp Deal
March 7, 2014

Privacy Groups File Complaint Over Facebook, WhatsApp Deal

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Two privacy groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission saying Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp could be an unfair trade practice, according to a Bloomberg report.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Center for Digital Democracy claim that the purchase is unfair because users of the messaging services had an expectation that their data would not be collected for advertising purposes.

Facebook first purchased WhatsApp for $16 billion back in February. The app is a real-time messaging network that allows users to bypass text messaging fees and send instant messages over data networks. The purchase was the social network’s largest acquisition to date.

Although the purchase was a large one for Facebook, not everyone is happy about the company’s move.

“Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model,” the complaint says. “The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users’ understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.”

The privacy groups say that the acquisition is a violation of Facebook’s commitment to give users “clear and prominent notice” when a privacy policy changes and to get their “express consent.”

"WhatsApp users could not reasonably have anticipated that by selecting a pro-privacy messaging service, they would subject their data to Facebook’s data collection practices," the complaint says.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder and Chief Executive Officer, said last month that nothing will change for WhatsApp users after the acquisition.

“Facebook’s goal is to bring more connectivity and utility to the world by delivering core Internet services efficiently and affordably -- this partnership will help make that happen,” Jodi Seth, a spokeswoman for Menlo Park, California-based Facebook, said in a statement. “As we have said repeatedly, WhatsApp will operate as a separate company and will honor its commitments to privacy and security.”

WhatsApp also reassured its users in a blog post when the acquisition was announced that nothing would be changing, saying it will remain autonomous and operate independently. They also said that its app will remain ad-free.