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WhatsApp Must Keep Privacy Promise to Users, FTC Warns

by Todd Haselton | April 10, 2014April 10, 2014 10:00 pm PST

WhatsApp - Facebook - Acquisition

Following the news of Facebook’s planned acquisition of WhatsApp, the latter published a letter on its blog to consumers explaining that its privacy policy will remain the same. That’s a key distinction between services like WhatsApp and some of its competitors: the company has always maintained that messages are private, which is why it doesn’t even ask for your real name, birthdate or anything else. The Federal Trade Commission recently published a letter telling WhatsApp that it has to hold that promise.

“We want to make clear that, regardless of the acquisition, WhatsApp must continue to honor these promises to consumers,”Jessica Rich, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s bureau of consumer protection said. “Further, if the acquisition is completed and WhatsApp fails to honor these promises, both companies could be in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act and, potentially, the FTC’s order against Facebook.” The agency is referring to issues it had with Facebook in 2011, when the social network changed privacy settings without the consent of users.

So what kind of promises does WhatsApp have to upkeep to keep the Federal Trade Commission happy?

“WhatsApp’s privacy policy clearly states, among other things, that users’ information will not be used for advertising purposes or sold to a third party for commercial or marketing use without a users’ consent,” Rich explains. “Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp would not nullify these promises and WhatsApp and Facebook would be continue to be bound by them. Further, Facebook has recently promised consumers that it would not change the way WHatsApp uses customer information.” Rich warns that any changes would violate the Federal Trade Commission Act.

So – basically the Federal Trade Commission is telling Facebook that it can’t go around selling customer information to generate revenue or to cater ads specifically, which the social network already does on its own site and with its own apps. Sounds like it’s going to take Facebook a long time to recoup that $19 billion.


Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...