Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp might come with some red tape after all.
The Electronic and Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday objecting to the social network's proposed purchase on grounds that it could violate the privacy protections users of the popular messaging platform previously assumed they possessed.
"WhatsApp users could not reasonably have anticipated that by selecting a pro-privacy messaging service, they would subject their data to Facebook's data-collection practices," the complaint reads. "The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users' understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice."
WhatsApp users have been promised that the company would "not retain or repurpose information collected from their mobile phones," according to the brief, a guarantee that doesn't square with Facebook's modus operandi of collecting user data for advertisers. Under that assumption, WhatsApp users may have shared more personal information that they would prefer Facebook have access to, the complaint charges.
The complaint additionally calls on the FTC to halt Facebook's acquisition until a proper review of the privacy issues are carried out, and to insulate WhatsApp user data from Big Blue's data-collection practices.
"We don't know or have any way of knowing what Facebook and WhatsApp have agreed to do with user data other than what they have represented publicly," said Julia Horwitz, a staff attorney with EPIC.
Prior to the deal, WhatsApp resolutely refused to run ads on its service, a perk that followers say helped give rise to its enormous popularity. Some fans of the platform have expressed dismay that their data will be shared for the use of targeted advertising.
"Facebook's goal is to bring more connectivity and utility to the world by delivering core Internet services efficiently and affordably — this partnership will help make that happen," the company said in a statement. "As we have said repeatedly, WhatsApp will operate as a separate company and will honor its commitments to privacy and security."
The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company announced it had purchased the five-year-old WhatsApp, which boasts 450 million users and a soaring growth rate of a million more each day, last month for a humongous price tag of $19 billion that shocked most observers, some of whom were unfamiliar with a messaging service that is far more popular overseas than it is in the United States.
Rival companies, including Google and Microsoft, have suggested that Facebook grossly overvalued the mobile app.