Italy and France Launch Investigations into WhatsApp and Yahoo

Italy and France Launch Investigations into WhatsApp and Yahoo

European privacy regulators expressed concerns on Friday about how WhatsApp and Yahoo handle users’ data. The Article 29 Working Party (WP29), a European Union body representing national data protection authorities from the bloc’s 28 states, has sent a letter to WhatsApp raising “serious concerns” about the messaging service’s new privacy policy, which enables it to share user information with Facebook. Additionally, in a letter to Yahoo, the WP29 highlighted its concerns about a 2014 data breach announced by the  company in September. This breach is thought to be the largest ever.

The EU is putting pressure on Silicon Valley companies to explain how they use their customers’ data. The regulators have demanded additional information from WhatsApp and Yahoo whilst requesting that they cooperate fully with the authorities. This could signal the launch of various probes by the national data protection regulators.

A German privacy watchdog has already demanded that Facebook stops collecting WhatsApp data, and Facebook is appealing against a ban on storing data relating to WhatsApp’s 35 million German users. Following the expression of the privacy regulators’ concerns on Friday, Italy’s competition watchdog opened up an antitrust investigation into WhatsApp for a possible violation of consumer protection laws. The Italian competition authority is seeking to establish whether the messaging service forces its users to expose personal data to Facebook. French regulators have also launched an investigation.

WhatsApp’s new data privacy policy presents a departure from the original claims made by the company that it would not share any customer data. Users’ phone numbers are now shared with Facebook, meaning that marketers who utilise the Facebook app can use the phone numbers to target advertisements. The policy has attracted the attention of Europe’s competition commission, which previously approved Facebook’s $22 billion purchase of WhatsApp in 2014 after the social network’s assurances that WhatsApp users’ personal data would not be shared.

The messaging service has been addressing the data protection authorities’ questions, and a spokeswoman told the Financial Times “We’ve had constructive conversations, including before our update, and we remain committed to respecting applicable law.” However, Yahoo are yet to respond to a request for comment. Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin sent a letter to Yahoo stating that the multinational technology company should devote “significant resources” to understanding, communicating and elaborating on all aspects of the “unprecedented data breach” to individuals whose data was exposed.

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