BERLIN – Hamburg’s data regulator ordered Facebook to stop collecting German user data from its WhatsApp unit, saying the company’s attempt to make users agree to the practice in its updated terms isn’t legal.
Hamburg watchdog Johannes Caspar issued a three-month emergency order, prohibiting Facebook from continuing with the data collection. He’s also asking a panel of European data regulators to take action and issue a bloc-wide regulation.
The new WhatsApp terms formally authorising the data scoop are invalid because they are intransparent, inconsistent and overly broad, he said.
“The order aims to secure the rights and freedoms of millions of users which are agreeing to the terms Germany-wide,” Mr Caspar said in a statement on Tuesday (May 11).
“We need to prevent damage and disadvantages linked to such a black-box-procedure.”
The order strikes at the heart of Facebook’s business model and advertising strategy. It echoes a similar and contested step by Germany’s antitrust office attacking the network’s habit of collecting data about what users do online and merging the information with their Facebook profiles.
That trove of information allows ads to be tailored to individual users – creating a cash cow for Facebook.
Facebook’s WhatsApp unit called Mr Caspar’s claims “wrong” and said the order won’t stop the roll-out of the new terms.
The regulator’s action is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding” of the update’s purpose and effect, the company said in an emailed statement.
The US tech giant has faced global criticism over the new terms that WhatsApp users are required to accept by May 15.
Mr Caspar said Facebook may already be wrongfully handling data and said it’s important to prevent misuse of the information to influence the German national election in September.