German watchdog orders Facebook to delete WhatsApp users' data

Data commissioner wants an end to the collection and storage of information shared through the app...

Whatsapp, encryption,

Image: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire/Press Association Images

A German privacy watchdog has told Facebook that it must stop collecting and storing information about WhatsApp users in the country.

The social networking giant has also been ordered to delete all data that it has already received.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has deemed Facebook's current practices to be an infringement of data protection law and noted that "effective approval" had not been obtained from the messaging app's 35 million users in Germany.

As Facebook's German headquarters are located in Hamburg, it falls within commissioner Johannes Caspar's jurisdiction.

Caspar said in a statement:

"After the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook two years ago, both parties have publicly assured that data will not be shared between them."

"The fact that this is now happening is not only a misleading of their users and the public, but also constitutes an infringement of national data protection law."

Facebook purchased the messaging app – today the world's biggest with a userbase of over one billion – for $19 billion in cash back in February 2014.

The watchdog noted that Facebook and WhatsApp are independent companies that should be processing users' data based on their separate terms and conditions.

Facebook has responded that it complies with EU data protection law and is "open to working with the Hamburg DPA" to address their questions and resolve concerns.

Last week, it was reported that a pair of Indian students had mounted a legal challenge against Facebook in an attempt to prevent changes to WhatsApp's privacy policy that they say threatens the rights of millions of users.

Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi filed a public-interest litigation in the Delhi High Court calling for a rollback of recent policy updates.

The Delhi High court ruled on Friday that WhatsApp was permitted to roll out the new policy, but ordered the service not to share the data of its users collected up to September 25th. WhatsApp has to delete all of the data of users who choose to opt out of the messaging app because of the privacy policy.

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzbv) has described the new policy as a betrayal by WhatsApp.

It said in a statement:

“When Facebook took over WhatsApp in 2014, it pledged that the WhatsApp service would remain independent.

"Consumers trusted that their information would remain with WhatsApp alone and that no information would be transferred to Facebook. Their trust was broken.

"We are extremely concerned about this insidious trend: consumers are losing step by step the ownership of their data. Their private sphere is in danger."