“Facebook agrees to ‘pause’ its data sharing agreement” – Facebook and Whatsapp will not be sharing their users data until further notice

Thank you to the saviours that are the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)!

There has been a recent uproar when WhatsApp’s privacy terms and conditions changed to allow their parent company, Facebook, to access its users’ personal details, which included phone numbers.

The ICO has recently intervened in the Facebook-WhatsApp data sharing agreement and have managed to ‘pause’ the agreement for the time being.

The change in privacy settings was thought to be for a range of purposes, including marketing and advertising, so that the companies could deliver targeted adverts. European privacy officials asked Facebook and WhatsApp to stop sharing its users’ personal details “until the appropriate legal protections can be assured”, WP29’s Chairwoman Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin noted.

The invaluable role of the ICO

The UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, also put pressure on the social media giant to stop sharing its users’ details when she wrote to Facebook back in September. Denham voiced her concerns and beliefs that consumers were not adequately protected by the changes in the privacy terms.

In August, she was adamant for users to regain control of their information, highlighting the Information Commissioner’s role to be transparent to the public about how their personal data is being shared. She reiterated that consumer protection is at the forefront, and this is achieved by making sure that companies are abiding by the law.

In the ICO blog, Denham believes that users did not have sufficient protection following the agreement, and the Office’s view has not changed following investigations. She details the lack of information that users have received, and that users were not giving their informed consent when they agreed to the sharing of their information with Facebook.

“Forced” acceptance of the new terms and conditions

One of the main issues here is that, if you do not choose to accept their terms and conditions, you will not be able to access the app.

In an era of ‘business terms and conditions’, which is usually hundreds of pages long, this gives companies an ‘upper-hand’ as users don’t want to be scrawling through them all; especially when a lot of it is probably too difficult to truly understand anyway!

In effect, this could allow companies to write in terms that are unfair; unknowing to the average user. By mindlessly accepting their terms and conditions, it’s easily arguable that the average user has not given their proper and informed consent.

As owners of our data, it’s important that we decide how it is used. Users should be given ongoing control of how their information is used, and not just a ’30-day agreement clause or be bound by it’.

Pressure on Facebook and Whatsapp to make an undertaking

The pressure from the ICO seems to have paid off as Facebook has agreed to pause the data sharing. However, there may not be a complete victory until Facebook and Whatsapp signs an undertaking committing to explaining to their users how their data will be used, and granting them ongoing control over that information. So far, the social media giant and messaging app have not agreed to the undertaking. If they continue to share the data without valid consent, there may be penalties, warned Denham.

Digital services like Facebook and Whatsapp are becoming integral in our daily lives with millions of users. It’s crucial that our data is protected and we must be informed as to how it is being used. If companies like Facebook and Whataspp fail to adhere to this concept and fail to give their undertaking to do so, they may well see enforcement action from the ICO.

IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.

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