WhatsApp given a month to fix ToS issues for consumers in Europe

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European regulators have warned WhatsApp that it has one more month to fix confusing terms of service. said today.

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Meta-owned messaging platform is under investigation by the block following a series of consumer protection complaints filed against it by the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC), led by the Swedish national authorities, back in July 2021following complaints from BEUC and a number of its affiliates, after WhatsApp attempted to enforce a controversial privacy policy update, resulting in the main negative reaction of users earlier in the same year.

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Concerns about the updated WhatsApp Terms of Service – separately – have led a number of EU data protection agencies to problem their own before warnings.

There is some overlap in these respective regulatory issues, but consumer protection complaints have accused WhatsApp of unfairly pressuring users to accept changes to its Terms and Privacy Policy, as well as objecting to the lack of clarity in its communications to users who are observers. called insufficient and confusing.

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The commission said it today followed up on a letter sent to WhatsApp about consumer protection complaints back in January, with a second letter urging the company to take action to address remaining issues with its ToS and privacy policy updates; and “clearly inform” consumers about their business model.

“In particular, WhatsApp is being asked to show how it plans to communicate any future updates to its terms of service, and to do so in a way that consumers can easily understand the implications of those updates and freely decide whether they want to continue using WhatsApp after those updates.” stated in the Commission’s statement in French. [translated with machine translation]. “The company is also being asked to clarify whether it receives revenue from commercial policies related to user data,” the company added.

The EU chief executive said that WhatsApp responded to its previous letter of complaint, stating that provided users with “needed information” about ToS updates, including through in-app notifications and its help center.

But the Commission’s assessment is that WhatsApp messages continue to fall short — criticizing how information is provided (“persistently”), as well as still rating it as “insufficient and confusing for users.”

“WhatsApp needs to make sure that users understand what they agree to and how their personal data is used for commercial purposes, in particular to provide services to business partners,” Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders added in a statement. “I reiterate that I expect WhatsApp to fully comply with EU rules that protect consumers and their fundamental rights.”

The commission said WhatsApp has one month to demonstrate to consumer protection authorities across the bloc that its actions are in line with EU consumer protection law.

It’s not immediately clear what might happen if that deadline passes and WhatsApp doesn’t make the necessary changes, but consumer protection law enforcement has been outsourced to national agencies, and the Commission is essentially taking on a coordinating role here because it’s cross-border. a complaint. Thus, a likely outcome of continued non-compliance is that WhatsApp is at risk of being subjected to a series of enforcement actions at the member state level.

Historically, the level of fines imposed by national agencies for consumer protection violations has varied and can be low.

However, in 2019, EU legislators supported modernization of consumer protection rules introduce more dissuasive sanctions – especially for issues that cross borders and affect many EU consumers, agreeing then that for widespread infringements (as this issue will no doubt be valued given how widely WhatsApp is used in Europe) national authorities should be able to impose fines of at least 4% of the world’s annual turnover.

EU member states were required to apply these new rules from May 28, 2022, so since WhatsApp is still receiving a consumer protection warning in June 2022, the issue should fall under enhanced mode, putting the company on the hook. for what could be a hefty fine if he didn’t correct his action in time.

We reached out to WhatsApp for comment regarding the Commission’s latest warning and it sent this statement attributed to a spokesperson:

“Our 2021 update has not changed our commitment to user privacy or how we work with our service, including how we process, use or share data with anyone, including Meta. We welcome the European Commission’s recognition that we have provided users with the information they need about our updates, including through in-app notifications and our help centre. We are reviewing the CCP’s letter and will respond in due course.”

The Company also pointed to the reorganization of its regional Privacy Policy, which it carried out. Earlier this yearfollowing a major EU data protection sanction when it also said it added additional information for people in the European region at the direction of its lead EU data protection regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC).

Data protection regulators have raised a number of similar concerns about WhatsApp’s operations, although the relevant laws differ from consumer protection rules; and Ireland’s data protection regulator has long been accused of failing to enforce them vigorously against tech giants like WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta.

Last summerfollowing the intervention of other concerned EU data protection agencies, the European Data Protection Board ordered the DPC to quickly investigate the data exchange between WhatsApp and Facebook, although it is not clear how and where it acted on this particular order.

Last failureWhatsApp was fined $267 million by the DPC – for violating the transparency principles of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – although that investigation dates back to December 2018, long before the controversial privacy policy update that rights authorities consumers and (other) EU data protection agencies have raised concerns that Ireland appears to have agreed with the Meta line that no meaningful changes have been made to its policies.

In addition, a very longstanding complaint against WhatsApp in the EU (since May 2018) – which focuses on the key question of what is its legal basis for processing user data for ad targeting purposes – has yet to be resolved, although we understand that the DPC has previously sent a draft decision to other EU DPAs for review (and the likelihood of objecting), so that, at the time of writing, the standard consensus-seeking process provided for in Article 60 of the GDPR was ongoing.

So a final decision on this four-year-old complaint could be finalized later this year – with the possibility of another massive fine in the way of WhatsApp. Or even an order to stop processing user data for advertising, which could have a much more devastating effect on Meta’s advertising business.


Credit: techcrunch.com /

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