A new EU agreement could mean WhatsApp user data is shared with Facebook, despite user protest over privacy incursions. The new deal amends WhatsApp’s relationship to Facebook in what would be a radical new way forward for the messaging app, which has long celebrated its encrypted nature.
Facebook Wants Your WhatsApp Data
The social networking behemoth would finally have access to user information on the world’s most popular messaging app, which Facebook purchased for $22 billion in 2014.
A senior EU lawmaker, Helen Dixon, made public a deal was close allowing the two companies to share information on their users. Ms. Dixon has been overseeing Facebook’s case.
“I think we are in agreement with the parties – WhatsApp and Facebook – that the quality of the information provided to users could have been clearer, could have been more transparent and could have been expressed in simpler terms,” she told Reuters.
Dixon, Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, hopes an agreement is reached over the summer.
Discussions between Facebook, WhatsApp and European regulatory bodies have been ongoing for years. Facebook angered users last summer when it announced a plan to use information from WhatsApp to influence Facebook users’ News Feed advertisements, see the phone number associated with WhatsApp accounts, and link and track user profiles between the two applications.
Respect for Your Privacy?
And the move represented Facebook going back on a promise to protect WhatsApp user data and keep it separate from the social network.
“It would be pretty stupid of us to interfere,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had said shortly after his company acquired WhatsApp.
Facebook was sued in a German court earlier in 2017, via WhatsApp, for changing its acquisitions privacy policies.
WhatsApp Users Could Be Vulnerable to Breaches, Anyway
News of the new info-sharing arrangement between Facebook and WhatsApp comes as Check Point, a cyber security firm, divulged that WhatsApp user information could be vulnerable to breaches.
The bug, which is a message including a malware attachment, could allow hackers to access victim contact lists, conversations, photos, videos and other shared files, according to Mirror Online.
“This new vulnerability put hundreds of millions of WhatsApp Web and Telegram Web users at risk of complete account take over,” said Oded Vanunu, head of product vulnerability research at Check Point. By simply sending an innocent looking photo, an attacker could gain control over the account, access message history, all photos that were ever shared, and send messages on behalf of the user.” Both WhatsApp and Telegram have addressed the vulnerability.
Privacy Online News has long reported on the danger of WhatsApp metadata. As our very own Rick Falkvinge wrote in 2014: “WhatsApp starts encrypting all conversations end-to-end. Would Facebook really allow WhatsApp to throw away the business value in a 19-billion acquisition? Of course it wouldn’t. This demonstrates that the snoop value was in the metadata all along: the knowledge of who talks to whom, when, how, and how often. Not in the actual words communicated.” He added:
“But as many have argued, the metadata is not exempt from privacy. Studies from Germany showed early that people were already refraining from making phonecalls that could conceivably be used against them in the future, when the existence of those phonecalls was logged: calls to drug helplines, suicide hotlines, even psychologists and marriage counseling.”
The encrypted messaging application space has seen increased competition, as Facebook Messenger recently surpassed 1.2 billion downloads. Moreover, encrypted options like Signal and Flickr have attracted privacy concerned individuals.