Privacy Law

Concerns over privacy as Facebook buys WhatsApp

The social media network, Facebook, has bought the messaging service WhatsApp for $19bn. With the deal comes concern over privacy and data protection. Some users have already turned their backs on the messaging service.

Concerns over privacy as Facebook buys WhatsApp ©-IckeT-Fotolia

Concerns over privacy as Facebook buys WhatsApp ©-IckeT-Fotolia

Privacy

Facebook has maintained that the two internet services will be kept separate and not be merged.

Legally, this means that Facebook’s standard terms and conditions will not automatically apply to WhatsApp users. If Facebook were to seek to merge the messaging service with the social media network, it would initially need to seek the agreement of its users.

WhatsApp data

For now then, WhatsApp users’ data shall initially remain secure and not be exploited for advertising purposes to the same extent as Facebook users’ data. On the contrary to widely held concerns, Facebook would not be able to simply post WhatApp profile photos on the social media network. It is also unlikely that Facebook will be able to use WhatApp’s microphone function to monitor users.

It is conceivable that Facebook could seek to combine data from user profiles in order to assess when users are most active. This would clearly breach German data protection law. However, from experience, we are well aware that German data protection legislation is of little concern to Facebook and other US American internet services.

Conclusion

Users’ concerns about privacy and the protection of their personal data are not entirely unjustified. Yet many of the imagined horror scenarios may well not be appropriate.

Only time will tell how Facebook will manage WhatsApp in order to regain its $19bn investment.

Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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