While personal chats between users will not be shared with Facebook, the revised privacy norms allows the sharing of data on business interactions across the group, reflecting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s aggressive move to build a messaging commerce powerhouse.
The US company’s move is raising hackles among privacy experts, antitrust and cybersecurity advocates, who have long warned against data pooling among big technology firms.
“The recent changes are clearly an attempt to monetise the private data of users without GIVING them a choice,” said cyber law expert Pavan Duggal. “This is a wakeup call for the government to come up with a framework to regulate intermediaries and have a dedicated data privacy law.”
The policy allows WhatsApp and Facebook to share user information with businesses and third-party service providers that transact on these platforms. “Many businesses rely on WhatsApp to communicate with their customers and clients. We work with businesses that use Facebook or third parties to help store and better manage their communications with you on WhatsApp,” the company said in a blogpost on January 4.
It requires users to consent to sharing transaction data, mobile device information, IP address, and data on how they interact with businesses with Facebook group companies.
WhatsApp, in its blogpost, said that sharing data with Facebook helps personalisation of content and the display of relevant advertisements across the group’s multiple social platforms. While also enabling users to interlink services such as using a Facebook Pay account to pay for things on the messaging app.
Antitrust lawyer Abir Roy, who is the founder of Sarvada Legal, said apart from the privacy issue, the new policy can raise antitrust issues as well. “The moment you have an insight into a user’s buying behaviour, you can do targeted advertising on Facebook.”
India accounts for 400 million of the 2 billion WhatsApp users globally. It is the first country for WhatsApp to launch payments. It has received permission from Indian regulators to go live with 20 million users so far. India has 310 million users on Facebook, according to data platform Statista, which is the largest user base for the social network in a country.
WhatsApp said it automatically collects usage and log information, including status, group information and prole photo. It also collects device, connection, and location information automatically. It cautioned users to “keep in mind that the content shared with a business on WhatsApp may be visible to several people in that business. In addition, some businesses might be working with third-party service providers (which may include Facebook) to help manage their communications with their customers”.
Data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook have long attracted regulators’ attention across the world. In 2018, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) got WhatsApp to sign an undertaking in which it has committed publicly not to share personal data with Facebook in the future until the two services can do it in a way that is compliant with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
In 2017, the French data protection agency said WhatsApp did not have a legal basis to share user data under French law for “business intelligence” purposes. It said WhatsApp had violated its obligation to cooperate with CNIL and had not properly obtained users’ consent to begin sharing their phone numbers with Facebook.
Facebook is increasingly looking at India as a “vanguard” for product innovations and investments. India was the first country for Facebook to launch Reels on Instagram and Watch on Facebook. WhatsApp commerce remains its biggest bet in the country.
WhatsApp wants to digitise and scale small and micro business ecosystem, grow the digital payments business, provide access to business services through its software, and partner with edtech, agritech businesses and launch pilots of selling micro-insurance and pension in India.