Privacy Groups Ask Feds to Investigate Facebook’s WhatsApp Buy

National Journal
Dustin Volz
Add to Briefcase
Dustin Volz
March 6, 2014, 11:11 a.m.

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.

What We're Following See More »
Spicer Excludes NYT, CNN, BuzzFeed from Press Gaggle
1 hours ago
NRA Chief: Leftist Protesters Are Paid
3 hours ago
Trump: Agencies Should Recommend Regulations to Repeal
3 hours ago
Trump Still on Campaign Rhetoric
5 hours ago
Trump Rails On Obamacare
5 hours ago

After spending a few minutes re-litigating the Democratic primary, Donald Trump turned his focus to Obamacare. “I inherited a mess, believe me. We also inherited a failed healthcare law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe” he said. “I’ve been watching and nobody says it, but Obamacare doesn’t work.” He finished, "so we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.