WhatsApp, a service that allows mobile phone users to send each
other messages, has had a longstanding commitment to not collect
user data for advertising purposes.
But there's no guarantee that that commitment will hold true once
the service becomes part of Facebook, according to the filing to the
Federal Trade Commission by the Electronic Privacy Information
Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, both non-profit groups.
The complaint asks regulators to investigate the deal "specifically
with regard to the ability of Facebook to access WhatsApp's store of
user mobile phone numbers and metadata."
Facebook, the world's No.1 social network with 1.2 billion users,
generates the majority of its revenue by showing ads that target
users by age, gender and other traits.
"As we have said repeatedly, Whatsapp will operate as a separate
company and will honor its commitments to privacy and security,"
Facebook said in a statement in response to the filing. The FTC
declined to comment.
Facebook stunned the technology industry last month when it
announced its intention to buy the five-year old WhatsApp for $19
billion in cash and stock. WhatsApp does not show ads on its
service, charging some of its users a $1 annual fee to use the
WhatsApp stores users' mobile phone numbers, but unlike many online
services, it does not collect user names, emails, and other contact
[to top of second column]
Despite assurances by WhatsApp and Facebook 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.
Regulators must require that Facebook "insulate" WhatsApp user
information from access by Facebook's data collection practices,
reads the complaint.
"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.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; editing
by Jonathan Oatis)
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