WhatsApp privacy update sparks complaint from EU consumer groups

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European consumer groups filed a complaint against WhatsApp over a controversial privacy policy update on Monday, alleging the platform’s “intrusive” notifications pushing the update breached European Union commercial practices. 

The European Consumer Organization, an umbrella consumer’s group based in Brussels, along with eight of its members in various countries, filed the complaint against the platform, owned by Facebook, arguing it failed to explain in “plain and intelligible language the nature of the changes.” 

“WhatsApp has been bombarding users for months with aggressive and persistent pop-up messages to force them to accept its new terms of use and privacy policy. They’ve been telling users that their access to their app will be cut off if they do not accept the new terms. Yet consumers don’t know what they’re actually accepting,” BEUC Director General Monique Goyens said in a statement

“WhatsApp has been deliberately vague about this and consumers would be exposed to far reaching data processing without valid consent. That’s why we’re calling on the authorities to take swift action against WhatsApp to ensure that it respects consumer rights.”

WhatsApp introduced a privacy policy earlier this year that allows the platform to share some of its data with Facebook and third parties, and lets users talk to businesses on the platform. The company has said the update will not change its policies around keeping personal conversations encrypted. 

A spokesperson for Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Hill. 

A company spokesperson told Reuters the BEUC’s action “is based on a misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of the update to our terms of service.” 

“The update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook, and does not impact the privacy of your messages with friends or family, wherever they are in the world. We would welcome an opportunity to explain the update to BEUC to clarify what it means for people,” the spokesperson added. 

In the U.S., members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus had also pushed back on the update. Members of the caucus urged Facebook in May to reverse plans for the required update. 

The letter came after users had received reminders about the update that had warned they would “encounter limited functionality on WhatsApp” until they accepted the update.

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