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3/8/2014
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Facebook's WhatsApp Deal Under Fire

Privacy advocates file FTC complaint to block Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp, calling it unfair and deceptive.

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Two privacy groups filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to block Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp. The groups want Facebook to provide more insight into how it intends to use data from the app's 450 million users.

According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Facebook's purchase might be "an unfair and deceptive trade practice" because WhatsApp assures users that it won't collect data for advertising purposes. Facebook, the privacy groups believe, will break that promise.

"Facebook routinely makes use of user information for advertising purposes and has made clear that it intends to incorporate the data of WhatsApp users into the user profiling business model," the complaintsaid. "The proposed acquisition will therefore violate WhatsApp users' understanding of their exposure to online advertising and constitutes an unfair and deceptive trade practice, subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission."

[Get a grip on your Facebook account. Read 10 Most Misunderstood Facebook Privacy Facts.]

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last month that nothing will change for WhatsApp users following the acquisition and that the business will continue to operate separately. A Facebook spokesperson reiterated those sentiments in a statement: "Facebook's goal is to bring more connectivity and utility to the world by delivering core Internet services efficiently and affordably -- this partnership will help make that happen."

EPIC said Facebook's track record indicates otherwise. "Facebook regularly incorporates data from companies it has acquired," it said in a statement.

The complaint by EPIC and CDD asks regulators to investigate the deal "specifically with regard to the ability of Facebook to access WhatsApp's store of user mobile phone numbers and metadata." It cites Facebook's billion-dollar acquisition of photo-sharing site Instagram in 2012 as an example of a company's privacy policies that were amended post-acquisition.

WhatsApp's strict privacy policy lies in stark contrast to Facebook's practices. WhatsApp states that it does not collect names, email addresses, or phone numbers, nor does it store messages on its servers unless they go undelivered. Those, too, are deleted after 30 days.

"We do not use your mobile phone number or other Personally Identifiable Information to send commercial or marketing messages without your consent or except as part of a specific program or feature for which you will have the ability to opt-in or opt-out," it reads.

Facebook's past has been wrought with privacy problems. In 2011, a lawsuit accused the social network of profiting off users' names, photographs, and identities in ads without their consent. The settlement awarded $20 million to the 600,000 Facebook users affected.

Most recently, privacy groups rallied against the social network after it proposed changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy. These updates clarified that by simply using Facebook, users granted the social network permission to use their names, profile pictures, content, and information in conjunction with ads and sponsored content without payment.

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Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 3:34:20 PM
Re: Re : Facebook's WhatsApp Deal Under Fire
You can read more about it here.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2014 | 2:47:17 PM
Re: Re : Facebook's WhatsApp Deal Under Fire
WhatsApp's founder, Jan Koum, responded to claims today that Facebook will change the service's privacy policies, calling the rumors inaccurate and careless.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
3/13/2014 | 6:22:42 AM
Re : Facebook's WhatsApp Deal Under Fire
@ Kristin Burnham, it is a very simple question for me at least. If I am using one service and satisfied with the terms of usage as well, then suddenly someone else purchases that service and brings in totally different terms and conditions of use, I would certainly think more than once whether or not to use that service anymore. With Facebook, one would have to be vigilant against subtle terms as well.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
3/12/2014 | 2:40:29 PM
Re: Well
The deal is set to be finalized later this year. It will be interesting to see if anything does stall or prevent it.
Madhava verma dantuluri
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Madhava verma dantuluri,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/11/2014 | 11:23:05 PM
Well
Well, i dont understand what really can stop the acquisition now.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2014 | 1:50:51 PM
Re : Facebook's WhatsApp Deal Under Fire
I thought of it something like we used to read when it mentions privacy advocates. It is kind of redundant that privacy advocates say about privacy violations and that too goes without any action taken. This time it is different and it has more noticeable content in it. It does make sense too so I just hope that it doesn't go unheard.
Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
3/10/2014 | 11:48:50 AM
Re: This complaint has a first name; it's O-S-C-A-R...
Facebook did the same thing when it acquired Instagram, and that service is still going strong. I get the impression that this complaint may be more for consumer awareness than to elicit actual action. As you mentioned, I'm not sure there's much the FCC could do, if the Instagram example sets the precedent. We'll see how it plays out.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
3/9/2014 | 11:38:30 AM
Re: Huh?
Terms of Service are still a contract.

You are correct, though, that generally the main thing a company has to do when it changes the terms or the privacy policy is make users click "I agree" to the new terms or lock them out of the service.  Of course, if a user doesn't agree and chooses to simply stop using the service, then he can't be subject to the new terms.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
3/9/2014 | 11:34:54 AM
Re: already deleated
With all due respect... You don't trust Facebook with your user data...but you trust Google??????
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
3/9/2014 | 11:33:43 AM
Re: Will you still use it?
My guess is that the acquisition of WhatsApp was purely defensive -- and, as such, very little will change with the app (think Instagram, or Yahoo's acquisition of Tumblr).
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