Germany orders Facebook: Stop collecting data on WhatsApp

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Facebook users in Germany will enjoy more privacy than their American counterparts thanks to a new order issued by a national regulator.

According to an official press release issued by Germany’s Data Protection Agency, Facebook must immediately stop collecting telephone numbers from users of WhatsApp, the most popular messaging app in the world. The order goes as far as instructing Facebook to erase all data that may have been collected over the last few weeks.

Facebook acquired WhatsApp a few years ago; however, the social media giant promised that the messaging app would never be used for advertising purposes. That promise essentially evaporated in August 2016 with an announcement by Facebook about its intentions of using WhatsApp telephone numbers to improve their current methods of targeted advertising.

The August announcement also hinted at the possibility of future WhatsApp advertising. There was an opportunity to opt out of the targeted advertising, but WhatsApp users did not have a choice when it came to sharing their mobile phone numbers with Facebook, and this is something that deeply concerned German regulators.

Facebook now intends to leverage the massive popularity of WhatsApp to its advantage by collecting more than just telephone numbers. Future plans by the social network call for the collection of WhatsApp status messages as well as profile data. Quite a few consumers and most privacy advocates have not welcomed these plans, but Germany has been the first government to take action against Facebook in this regard.

Germany is a nation known for its strong commitment to privacy and data protection. The Commissioner of the Data Protection Agency explained that the arbitrary decision by Facebook is very troubling; the social network should have known that permission must be obtained from German users for the purpose of sharing personal data.

Other European nations with similar privacy laws have also voiced their concerns about how Facebook intends to leverage its $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp. These nations will surely look at Germany’s recent action for guidance; this could make Facebook investors nervous about future revenues from advertising, which is the principal moneymaking activity for this social network.