Facebook has said it will appeal against an administrative order from Hamburg commissioner for data protection and freedom of information Johannes Caspar, preventing WhatsApp from sharing data with its parent company in Germany.
According to a statement from the watchdog, the order “prohibits Facebook with immediate effect to collect and store data of German WhatsApp users”. Facebook has also been ordered to delete all data that has already been forwarded by WhatsApp.
The order has been made after the watchdog pointed out that the sharing deal was done without the prior agreement of users of the two companies. Data can only be shared if both companies establish a legal basis to do this, but it claims that Facebook does not have approval from WhatsApp’s 35 million users in Germany.
The European Court of Justice recently suggesting that international companies must observe national data protection laws if they process data in those countries, meaning that Facebook can be handed orders by Hamburg’s data protection watchdog because it markets its German-speaking dealings through an affiliate in Hamburg.
“This administrative order protects the data of about 35 million WhatsApp users in Germany,” continued Caspar. “It has to be their decision whether they want to connect their account with Facebook,” he added, saying that Facebook had to ask for user permission in advance, which it had not done. Caspar speculated that many users might not have given their permission to either of the companies involved.
“In addition, there are many millions of people whose contact details were uploaded to WhatsApp from the user’s address books, although they might not even have a connection to Facebook or WhatsApp.”
Facebook claims this data has not yet been collected. However, Caspar argued that Facebook’s answer – “that this has merely not been done for the time being” – is cause for concern that, and that the gravity of the data protection breach will have a “much more severe impact”.
Facebook has released a statement, reading: “We will appeal this order and we will work with the Hamburg DPA in an effort to address their questions and resolve any concerns.”
On 27 September, Italy’s data privacy watchdog also commented it had opened a probe asking what information WhatsApp planned to share with Facebook and how it would explain its actions to users.