WhatsApp Safer For Users Now That Facebook Agrees To Suspend Using Data

WhatsApp users in the United Kingdom can use the messaging app knowing that their personal information is more secure now that its parent company, Facebook, has agreed to suspend using such data for “advertisements or product-improvement purposes,” Reuters reports.

Facebook purchased the messaging app in 2014.

The decision to suspend using data from U.K. users came after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the U.K.’s official privacy watchdog organization, said it would begin monitoring WhatsApp’s new privacy policy in August, according to Reuters.

“We’re pleased that they’ve agreed to pause using data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes,” Elizabeth Denham, the head of the ICO, said in a statement. “If Facebook starts using the data without valid consent, they may face enforcement action from my office.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company maintains that it is abiding by all applicable U.K. laws.

“These updates comply with applicable law, and follow the latest guidance from the UK Information Commissioner’s Office,” the spokeswomen said. “We hope to continue our detailed conversations with the ICO and other data protection officials, and we remain open to working collaboratively to address their questions.”

The move by the U.K.’s ICO could foreshadow similar moves by other watchdog agencies. As Reuters notes, Facebook and WhatsApp have also faced scrutiny from the European Union’s 28 data protection authorities, “who last month requested that WhatsApp pause sharing users’ data with its parent company until the appropriate legal protections could be assured.”

Of central interest to the Information Commissioner’s Office was making Facebook and WhatsApp’s privacy policies more detailed and transparent for users, as well as giving users greater control over their personal data.

Similar questions have been raised by national watchdog agencies in Ireland and Spain. Ireland could potentially apply more pressure to Facebook and WhatsApp because Facebook’s European headquarters are based there, Reuters points out.

Facebook has at times faced intense scrutiny over the terms of its privacy policy in the United States as well.

“If you agree to Facebook’s terms and conditions, expect to be transmogrified, horror-movie style, into an unwitting, twitching little guinea pig,” Thomas Fox-Brewster wrote in a June article for Forbes magazine.

Fox-Brewster was particularly irked that Facebook had, apparently, been using people’s locations to recommend friends and otherwise influence its internal algorithms.

“The social network even admitted to doing so, claiming to combine that data with other factors, such as work and education information or mutual friends, to offer up people a user might want to connect with,” Fox-Brewster said. “Not long after, however, Facebook denied it was using location data, only to backtrack for a second time, admitting it had carried out a test on an unspecified number of users for four weeks at the end of last year.”

One of the most surprising details Fox-Brewster discovered about changes to Facebook’s privacy policy during his research was that there are “no truly private profiles on Facebook.”

“Last week, I reviewed my privacy settings in an attempt to ensure my profile couldn’t be found, only to discover that the ability to stop anyone finding me by searching my name had been removed (though I can still stop them looking for me via my registered email),” he writes in the article. “I tested whether that was possible with a fake account and it was, though only old posts and profile photos could be viewed.”

After snooping further into the subject, Fox-Brewster learned that Facebook had made those changes to its private profile settings “way back in 2013.”

In August, the Guardian reported that WhatsApp was even sharing its 1.7 billion monthly users’ phone numbers with Facebook.

News that WhatsApp and Facebook will quit sharing such information, with each other if no one else, is bound to come as a big relief for their U.K. users and give hope that the same will come about for users in other countries as well.

[Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]