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Privacy groups want FTC to investigate Facebook's $19bn Whatsapp buy

Say no to oversharing
Fri Mar 07 2014, 10:47
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PRIVACY GROUPS Electronic Privacy In Communications (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy are concerned about the implications of Facebook buying Whatsapp and what it means for citizens.

Together the groups have asked the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look at the $19bn acquisition and their concerns that together the firms represent a privacy threat.

EPIC pointed out that Facebook is under a 20-year good behaviour order from the FTC. It suggested that the FTC might consider user reactions to the deal and what Facebook might do with additional revenue.

"Whatsapp currently has 450 million active users, many of whom have objected to the proposed acquisition. Facebook regularly incorporates data from companies it has acquired," it said in a statement.

"The Federal Trade Commission has previously responded favorably to EPIC complaints concerning Google Buzz, Microsoft Passport, Changes in Facebook Privacy Settings, and Choicepoint security practices."

The complaint said that while Whatsapp appears to have a good data privacy policy that does not harm users, the public cannot be sure that Facebook plays by the same rules.

It said that Facebook regularly takes data from the companies that it acquires, and does things like copy messages and posts that even the original user has not made public or deleted.

The complaint added that many Whatsapp users would not have expected to have been passed over to Facebook when they joined the service.

"Whatsapp users could not reasonably have anticipated that by selecting a pro-privacy messaging service, they would subject their data to Facebook's data collection practices," it said.

An FTC investigation would not be unusual, it added, and the Dutch data protection Commissioner and German authorities already have the deal in their sights.

The privacy groups called for a halt on the acquisition while a full investigation is carried out. They said that if the deal does go ahead, data from Whatsapp should be sequestered and not shared with Facebook. µ

 

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