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Facebook’s plan to glean more data from WhatsApp users has hit an obstacle in Europe. The social network is “pausing” some data-sharing activities after regulators across the continent called on the companies to clarify WhatsApp’s messaging around permissions and provide more details on how the data will be used.

To recap, Facebook acquired mobile messaging app WhatsApp back in 2014, and the two companies were adamant that advertising would be off-limits within WhatsApp. So far, the duo have operated as separate entities, for the most part, with no obvious connection between them. In August this year, however, WhatsApp introduced a number of updates to its privacy policy and T&C, part of which detailed how it would share user data, such as phone numbers, with Facebook. Though there was a way to opt out, the messaging wasn’t clear, it mentioned nothing about Facebook, and it wasn’t obvious that you could opt out.

Indeed, the only option visible initially was “Agree.” But if you clicked on the barely visible “Read” for the terms and conditions, you were then informed that this involved sharing your information with Facebook and that you could un-tick a box to opt out.

WhatsApp: Opt-out?

Above: WhatsApp: Opt-out?

In an open letter to WhatsApp last month, the EU’s data protection working party (WP29) said it had:


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…serious concerns regarding  the manner in which the information relating to the updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy was provided to users and consequently about the validity of the users’ consent.

WP29 also questions the effectiveness of control mechanisms offered to users to exercise their rights and the effects that the data sharing will have on people that are not a user of any other service within the Facebook family of companies.

A number of state-level authorities across Europe subsequently, and independently, voiced concerns, and last week the U.K. convinced WhatsApp to pause data-sharing — effective immediately, pending further enquiries and clarifications. Now, WhatsApp has temporarily halted some data-sharing across the whole of the EU, as reported by the Financial Times, specifically for products and advertising purposes, though it conceded it would continue to share back-end user data for “administrative reasons, such as fighting spam.”

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that WhatsApp won’t continue to share data with Facebook in the future — the problem relates to the “quality of the notice and information delivered to users.” This likely means that WhatsApp will simply improve the messaging, and users across the EU will again be asked to agree to share their data.

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