FTC Cautions Facebook, WhatsApp on User Privacy

April 16, 2014
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WhatsApp’s main pull to IM users has been the promise of privacy. Ahead of the close of its deal with Facebook, both companies have received a letter from the US Federal Trade Commission urging for the protection of user data privacy. In a statement with the agency Facebook had expressed its commitment to this end. It should however be noted that Facebook has run afoul of the commission in the past due to privacy concerns. Back in 2011, the FTC charged Facebook with publicly sharing private user data and by misrepresenting their policies to Facebook users.

Jan Koum, WhatsApp CEO has come out in a blog post with an emphatic statement on the importance of privacy to the messaging service. “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the internet or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that.” – Jan Koum.

However in the case that the user policies for WhatsApp should be changed, the FTC requires that Facebook gets affirmative consent from the users and offer an option to customers who want to opt out of the changes. As FTC notes here:

The letter notes that before making any material changes to how they use data already collected from WhatsApp subscribers, the companies must get affirmative consent. In addition, the letter notes that the companies must not misrepresent the extent to which they maintain the privacy or security of user data. The letter also recommends that consumers be given the opportunity to opt out of any future changes to how newly-collected data is used.

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