Facebook acquisition whatsapp privacy groups

Facebook’s WhatsApp Acquisition Hits Roadblock As Privacy Groups Cry Foul

Social Media giant Facebook’s decision to acquire instant Messaging client WhatsApp for $19 Billion seems to have hit its first major roadblock. In a formal complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), two privacy groups have argued that the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook would not be in the best interests of WhatsApp users and has urged the FTC to take note. The two privacy groups in the fray to stall the acquisition of WhatsApp are The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), both based out of Washington.

The complaint falls under the purview of “unfair and deceptive practices” and alleges that the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook would result in the violation of the privacy expectations of WhatsApp users. This is because in its current form, the privacy policy of WhatsApp is incompatible with that of Facebook. The FTC has been requested by the complainants to halt the acquisition until Facebook addresses all the issues listed in the complaint. According to CNET, another issue that these groups have with the merger is the fact that it violates the consent decree issued by the FTC in 2011.

In the complaint, the two organizations allege that Facebook as part of its policy routinely collects user data for advertising purposes, which is its primary revenue source. Since Facebook used data from Instagram users after the service was acquired by Facebook in 2012, there is reason to believe that it will act similarly in the case of WhatsApp. Since many users of WhatsApp would be opposed to the privacy policies of Facebook, the groups want the FTC to ensure that there would be privacy protections in place that would ensure that Facebook doesn’t get free access to data from WhatsApp users.

According to Bloomberg, Facebook has on its part responded by saying that “nothing would change” and that WhatsApp would continue to operate as a separate company. The social media giant also assures that it would honor its commitments to privacy and security of WhatsApp users. In the post announcing the acquisition of WhatsApp, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said that WhatsApp will continue to operate independently within Facebook and that the product roadmap for the popular messaging app will remain unchanged. A day later at an event, he reiterated this while also adding that WhatsApp would be made available as a separate program and that all of its current employees would be retained.

While complaints by EPIC and CDD to the FTC has in the past resulted in the latter taking notice, until the FTC actually does that in this case, this complaint doesn’t carry much legal weight. Until now, there has been no indication from the FTC as to how it intends to tackle this issue.

Do you think Facebook needs to come clean with its intentions behind the acquisition of WhatsApp?