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Friday, March 7, 2014

Privacy Groups File FTC Complaint to Stall Facebook's Acquisition of WhatsApp

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2014 at 12:05 PM

click to enlarge facebook_middle_finger.jpg

When the world's no. 1 social network goes on a buying spree, the world of mobile apps and gadgetry -- and apparently, even aerospace technology -- is its oyster.

Unless, of course, government regulators crash the party.

That might happen to Facebook, right on the heels of its $19 billion acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp. News of the deal had barely hit the wires when privacy advocates began crying foul, arguing that WhatsApp, long deemed the "unFacebook" of social media apparati, would have to turn over its trove of phone numbers and address books to Facebook's giant commercial machine.

On Thursday, D.C.-based privacy groups the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking regulators to scrutinize Facebook's intentions for the personal data of WhatsApp's 450 million users.

"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 complainants wrote, intuiting that the acquisition would cause WhatsApp to violate its contract with users.

Although Facebook stated publicly that it plans to run WhatsApp as a separate company and uphold its privacy policies, staff at the Center for Digital Democracy weren't convinced. "...One only has to look at what happened to Instagram," the watchdog organization wrote in its press announcement, linking to a Facebook job posting for marketers who would convert Instagram data into dollars.

While cybersafety advocates haven't come to a uniform consensus on Facebook's obligations to WhatsApp users -- Internet security lawyer Parry Aftab called the FTC complaint an example of "privacy paternalism" -- this flurry of filings has forced the social media behemoth to ramp up its defense.

Given the slow pace of trade law, it might take months -- or even years -- to cash that $19 billion deal in. WhatsApp might not join the big data machine after all.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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