Facebook-WhatsApp deal leaves angry privacy advocates knocking on FTC door

By Randell Suba, Tech Times | March 8, 7:24 AM

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Two privacy advocacy groups have filed complaints with the FTC and try to tell Facebook and WhatsApp "not so quick" with the $19 billion deal. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) are concerned about the potential loss of privacy guarantees made by WhatsApp, which has been known to keep its distance from its users data, upon purchase of the messaging platform by Facebook.
(Photo : Jan Persiel)

After the $19 billion deal between Facebook and WhatsApp made the jaws of industry players and technology fans drop, advocacy groups are now calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look into the implications of the acquisition.

Two privacy advocacy groups filed their complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) calling for an investigation and possible blocking of the said purchase. Both groups emphasized the potential loss of privacy guarantees made by WhatsApp, which has been known to keep its distance from its users data, upon purchase of the messaging platform by Facebook.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has successfully urged the FTC before to ensure privacy and security of users involving the Google Buzz, privacy settings of Facebook, Choicepoint, and Microsoft Passport. It now puts spotlight on the bad record of Facebook with regard to privacy.

"Facebook's proposed purchase of WhatsApp. WhatsApp is a messaging service that gained popularity based on its strong pro-privacy approach to user data. WhatsApp currently has 450 million active users, many of whom have objected to the proposed acquisition. Facebook regularly incorporates data from companies it has acquired," EPIC said in a statement. "Facebook is currently under a 20 year consent decree from the FTC that requires Facebook to protect user privacy and to comply with the US-EU Safe Harbor guidelines."

Facebook has been hit by several issues linked to privacy of its users. In October, Facebook tweaked its privacy settings that disabled an opt out for users who do not want to be searched on the network. Then there is the controversy that popped up in December, accusing the company that it monitors what its users type into its platform.

In January, the social network was under scrutiny for purported mining of private messages of users. Then there is the issue about its Sponsored Stories, which blew up into a class action lawsuit for utilizing user's data to serve relevant promotional posts based on the behavior of users on Facebook.

The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) has supported the move of EPIC.

"We urge you to review the attached FTC complaint that was filed today by EPIC and CDD.  The millions of WhatsApp users who signed up for the service were promised--repeatedly as you will read in the complaint--that the company didn't want to gather and commericialize [sic] their data.   They posed as the 'unFacebook,' deriding the commercial surveillance apparatus that lies at the core of contemporary online practices," CDD said in a statement.

Upon announcement of the acquisition, WhatsApp released a statement that promises a lot to its users.

"Here's what will change for you, our users: nothing," stated WhatsApp. "WhatsApp will remain autonomous and operate independently. You can continue to enjoy the service for a nominal fee. You can continue to use WhatsApp no matter where in the world you are, or what smartphone you're using. And you can still count on absolutely no ads interrupting your communication. There would have been no partnership between our two companies if we had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product."

Instant millionaires on the employees roll of WhatsApp might have to stop counting their money, at least for now.

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