Facebook's WhatsApp Deal: Privacy Advocates File Complaint Over Facebook's 'Unfair and Deceptive' Practices

(Photo: WhatsApp)A screenshot of the WhatsApp software for Android.

Privacy advocates have called on U.S. regulators to block Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp, Inc, until an investigation clarifies that the social media giant will protect WhatsApp users' information from Facebook's "unfair and deceptive" data collection practices.

Advocates from the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy filed the complaint with the Federal Trade Commission last week.

The groups want the commission to investigate the acquisition into Facebook's possible use of WhatsApp users' mobile phone numbers and metadata. The group seeks a halt to what it says are Facebook's practices before the aquisition goes through.

WhatsApp has more than 450 million users around the world.

Information Week noted that while WhatsApp guarantees users that it will not gather user data for advertising, the advocacy groups believe that Facebook will not follow that as it routinely makes use of user information for advertising. Thus, they allege WhatsApp will violate the users' understanding about their online advertising exposure. They say this constitutes an "unfair and deceptive" practice that requires an FTC investigation.

Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that there will be no changes for WhatsApp users and business will continue to operate independently. A spokesperson for Facebook emphasized in a statement that Facebook intends to provide more connectivity to the world via core Internet services, and that the WhatsApp partnership can be of help.

The groups noted that after Facebook's acquisition of Instagram in 2012  privacy policies were amended. They said that the privacy policy of WhatsApp contrasts with Facebook's practices.

WhatsApp has stated that it does not collect personal information like names, phone numbers, email addresses nor save messages to servers (except the undelivered ones that are deleted after 30 days).

Facebook has been been in the spotlight for privacy issues in the past. In 2011, it was accused of profiting from users' photos, identities and names in advertisements without the owners' consent. It affected 600,000 Facebook users who received $20 million settlement award.

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