Privacy groups ask FTC to block Facebook-WhatsApp deal

Privacy groups have asked US regulators to halt Facebook Inc’s $19 billion acquisition that was done last month by Facebook with messaging service WhatsApp. They have asked to do so until there is a clearer understanding of how the company intends to use the personal data of WhatsApp’s 450 million users.

Filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, the

“unfair and deceptive practices” complaint states that WhatsApp’s privacy policy is incompatible with Facebook’s. They request that the FTC “halt Facebook’s proposed acquisition of WhatsApp” until the issues listed in the complaint are “adequately resolved.”

WhatsApp, is a message service that allows its users to send message chats to each other from their mobile phones, has had a longstanding commitment to not collect user data for advertising purposes. However, according to the filing to the Federal Trade Commission by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy there is no such guarantee about this deal.

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In the complaint they have asked US regulators to investigate the deal precisely and with regard to the ability of Facebook to access WhatsApp’s store of user mobile phone numbers and metadata.”

The complaint (PDF) reads:

WhatsApp built a user base based on its commitment not to collect user data for advertising revenue. Acting in reliance on WhatsApp representations, Internet users provided detailed personal information to the company including private text to close friends. Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model. The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users’ understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.

But, Facebook insists that users actually shouldn’t worry too much, because it intends to keep the two entities separate.
Facebook is world’s number one social giant having 1.2 billion users generates its maximum of revenue by showing ads that target users by age, gender and other traits.

A Facebook spokesperson told CNET’s Seth Rosenblatt in a statement:

“As we have said repeatedly, Whatsapp will operate as a separate company and will honor its commitments to privacy and security.”

Facebook surprise or rather shocked everyone last month with its acquisition of $19 billion with Whats Appin cash and stock. According to the deal, WhatsApp does not show ads on its service, charging some of its users a $1 annual fee to use the service.
WhatsApp and Facebook have assured that the privacy policies will not change, the groups that wrote the FTC filing note that Facebook has in the past amended an acquired-company’s privacy policies, such as the Instagram photo-sharing service that Facebook acquired in 2012.

“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,” reads the filing.