Tag: Privacy Policy

WhatsApp’s privacy policy update halted

22. January 2021

Already at the beginning of December 2020, first indications came up signaling that WhatsApp will change its terms of service and privacy policy. Earlier this year, users received the update notice when launching the app on their device. It stated that the new terms concern additional information on how WhatsApp processes user data and how businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats. The terms should be accepted by February 8th, 2021, to continue using the chat service. Otherwise, the deletion of the account was suggested, because it will not be possible to use WhatsApp without accepting the changes. The notice has caused all sorts of confusion and criticism, because it has mistakenly made many users believe that the agreement allows WhatsApp to share all collected user data with company parent Facebook, which had faced repeated privacy controversies in the past.

Users’ fears in this regard are not entirely unfounded. As a matter of fact, outside the EU, WhatsApp user data has already been flowing to Facebook since 2016 – for advertising purposes, among other things. Though, for the EU and the United Kingdom, other guidelines apply without any data transfer.

The negative coverage and user reactions caused WhatsApp to hastily note that the changes explicitly do not affect EU users. Niamh Sweeney, director of policy at WhatsApp, said via Twitter that it remained the case that WhatsApp did not share European user data with Facebook for the purpose of using this data to improve Facebook’s products or ads.

However, since the topic continues to stir the emotions, WhatsApp felt compelled to provide clarification with a tweet and a FAQ. The statements make it clear once again that the changes are related to optional business features and provide further transparency about how the company collects and uses data. The end-to-end encryption, with which chat content is only visible to the participating users, will not be changed. Moreover, the new update does not expand WhatsApp’s ability to share data with Facebook.

Nevertheless, despite all efforts, WhatsApp has not managed to explain the changes in an understandable way. It has even had to accept huge user churn in recent days. The interest in messenger alternatives has increased enormously. Eventually, the public backlash led to an official announcement that the controversial considered update will be delayed until May 15th, 2021. Due to misinformation and concern, users shall be given more time to review the policy on their own in order to understand WhatsApp’s privacy and security principles.

Belgian DPA planning to suspend websites that infringe GDPR

8. December 2020

The Belgian Data Protection Authority (DPA) signed a Cooperation Agreement on November 26, 2020, with DNS Belgium, the organization behind the management of the “.be” country-code domain name. The background is to allow DNS Belgium to suspend “.be” websites that are infringing the GDPR. The Agreement builds up a two-tier cooperation system, which aims at identifying infringements and suspending the websites if no action is taken.

The first step is a cooperative investigation, for which DNS Belgium has to support the Belgian DPA by providing all information necessary for the investigation.

The second step is the “Notice and Action” procedure, during which, if the Belgian DPA’s Investigation Service considers a data processing activity conducted via a website with a “.be” domain name to infringe one of the data protection principles under the GDPR, and the responsible data controller or data processor does not comply with the DPA’s order to suspend, limit, freeze or end the data processing activity, the Investigation Service is authorized to send a “Notice and Action” notification to DNS Belgium. Once DNS Belgium receives the “Notice and Action” notification, they will proceed to inform the website owner about the infringement and re-direct the relevant domain name to a warning page of the Belgian DPA.

The website owner can take remedial measures within 14 days to remedy the infringement, upon which he can indicate it to the Belgian DPA. If the Belgian DPA does not contest the measures taken, the relevant domain name will be restored. However, if the infringement is not remediated during the 14-day period, the website will continuously to be re-directed to the Belgian DPA’s warning page for a period of six months. After this time the website will be cancelled and placed in quarantine for 40 days before becoming available for registration once again.

Due to the heavy penalty in cases of a controller not taking any action to remedy the infringement, this action by the Belgian DPA is only possible in cases of infringements that cause very serious harm and are committed by natural or legal persons who deliberately infringe the law, or continue a data processing activity despite a prior order by the Investigation Service of the Belgian DPA to suspend, limit, freeze or end the processing activity.

It is to note that the Inspector General of the Belgian DPA can provide extra time to a website owner to comply with the relevant data protection requirements at the Inspector General’s discretion. However, this will depend on a case by case basis and on the cooperation of the website owner.

CNIL updates its FAQs for case of a No-Deal Brexit

24. September 2019

The French data protection authority “CNIL” updated its existing catalogue of questions and answers (“FAQs”) to inform about the impact of a no-deal brexit and how controllers should prepare for the transfer of data from the EU to the UK.

As things stand, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 1st of November 2019. The UK will then be considered a third country for the purposes of the European General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”). For this reason, after the exit, data transfer mechanisms become necessary to transfer personal data from the EU to the UK.

The FAQs recommend five steps that entities should take when transferring data to a controller or processor in the UK to ensure compliance with GDPR:

1. Identify processing activities that involve the transfer of personal data to the United Kingdom.
2. Determine the most appropriate transfer mechanism to implement for these processing activities.
3. Implement the chosen transfer mechanism so that it is applicable and effective as of November 1, 2019.
4. Update your internal documents to include transfers to the United Kingdom as of November 1, 2019.
5. If necessary, update relevant privacy notices to indicate the existence of transfers of data outside the EU and EEA where the United Kingdom is concerned.

CNIL also discusses the GDPR-compliant data transfer mechanisms (e.g., standard contractual clauses, binding corporate rules, codes of conduct) and points out that, whichever one is chosen, it must take effect on 1st of November. If controllers should choose a derogation admissible according to GDPR, CNIL stresses that this must strictly comply with the requirements of Art. 49 GDPR.

FTC takes action against companies claiming to participate in EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and other international privacy agreements

24. June 2019

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it had taken action against several companies that pretended to be compliant with the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and other international privacy agreements.

According to the FTC, SecureTest, Inc., a background screening company, has falsely claimed on its website to have participated in the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield. These framework agreements allow companies to transfer consumer data from member states of the European Union and Switzerland to the United States in accordance with EU or Swiss law.

In September 2017, the company applied to the U.S. Department of Commerce for Privacy Shield certification. However, it did not take the necessary steps to be certified as compliant with the framework agreements.

Following the FTC’s complaint, the FTC and SecureTest, Inc. have proposed a settlement agreement. This proposal includes a prohibition for SecureTest to misrepresent its participation in any privacy or security program sponsored by any government or self-regulatory or standardization organization. The proposed agreement will be published in the Federal Register and subject to public comment for 30 days. Afterwards the FTC will make a determination regarding whether to make the proposed consent order final.

The FTC has also sent warning letters to 13 companies that falsely claimed to participate in the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor and the U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor frameworks, which were replaced in 2016 by the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield frameworks. The FTC asked companies to remove from their websites, privacy policies or other public documents any statements claiming to participate in a safe harbor agreement. If the companies fail to take action within 30 days, the FTC warned that it would take appropriate legal action.

The FTC also sent warning letters with the same request to two companies that falsely claimed in their privacy policies that they were participants in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system. The APEC CBPR system is an initiative to improve the protection of consumer data moving between APEC member countries through a voluntary but enforceable code of conduct implemented by participating companies. To become a certified participant, a designated third party, known as an APEC-approved Accountability Agent, must verify and confirm that the company meets the requirements of the CBPR program.

Dutch DPA publishes recommendations for privacy policies

26. April 2019

Recently, the Dutch Data Portection Authority (Autoriteit Personensgegevens) published six recommendations for companies when outlining their privacy policies for the purpose of Art. 24 para 2 of the General Data Protection Regulation (the “GDPR”).

The authorities’ recommendations are a result of their investigation of companies’ privacy policies, which focused on companies that mainly process special categories of personal data, e.g. health data or data relating to individuals’ political beliefs.

The Dutch DPA reviewed privacy policies of several companies such as blood banks or local political parties and it focused on three main points 1) the description of the categories of the personal data 2) the description of the purposes of the processing and 3) the information about data subjects’ rights. They discovered that the descriptions of the data categories and purposes were incomplete or too superficial and thus released six recommendations that companies shall take into consideration when outlining privacy policies.

Those are the six recommendations:

  • Companies should evaluate whether they have to implement privacy policies (taking into account the nature, scope, context and purposes of the processing, as well as the risks for the rights and freedoms of natural persons)
  • Companies should consult internal and/or external expertise such as data protection officers when implementing privacy policies
  • The policy should be outlined in a single document to avoid fragmentation of information
  • The policy should be concrete and specific and therefore not only repeating the provisions of the GDPR
  • The DPA recommends to publish the privacy policies so that data subjects are aware of how the company handles personal data
  • The DPA also suggests to draft a privacy policy even if it is not mandatory to demonstrate that the company is willing to protect personal data

Apple advises app developer to reveal or remove code for screen recording

12. February 2019

After TechCrunch initiated investigations that revealed that numerous apps were recording screen usage, Apple called on app developers to remove or at least disclose the screen recording code.

TechCrunch’s investigation revealed that many large companies commission Glassbox, a customer experience analytics firm, to be able to view their users’ screens and thus follow and track keyboard entries and understand in which way the user uses the app. It turned out that during the replay of the session some fields that should have been masked were not masked, so that certain sensitive data, like passport numbers and credit card numbers, could be seen. Furthermore, none of the apps examined informed their users that the screen was being recorded while using the app. Therefore, no specific consent was obtained nor was any reference made to screen recording in the apps’ privacy policy.

Based on these findings, Apple immediately asked the app developers to remove or properly disclose the analytics code that enables them to record screen usage. Apples App Store Review Guidelines require that apps request explicit user consent and provide a clear visual indication when recording, logging, or otherwise making a record of user activity. In addition, Apple expressly prohibits the covert recording without the consent of the app users.

According to TechCrunch, Apple has already pointed out to some app developers that they have broken Apple’s rules. One was even explicitly asked to remove the code from the app, pointing to the Apple Store Guidelines. The developer was given less than a day to do so. Otherwise, Apple would remove the app from the App Store.

 

CNIL fines Google for violation of GDPR

25. January 2019

On 21st of January 2019, the French Data Protection Authority CNIL imposed a fine of € 50 Million on Google for lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding the ads personalization.

On 25th and 28th of May 2018, CNIL received complaints from the associations None of Your Business (“NOYB”) and La Quadrature du Net (“LQDN”). The associations accused Google of not having a valid legal basis to process the personal data of the users of its services.

CNIL carried out online inspections in September 2018, analysing a user’s browsing pattern and the documents he could access.

The committee first noted that the information provided by Google is not easily accessible to a user. Essential information, such as the data processing purposes, the data storage periods or the categories of personal data used for the ads personalization, are spread across multiple documents. The user receives relevant information only after carrying out several steps, sometimes up to six are required. According to this, the scheme selected by Google is not compatible with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In addition, the committee noted that some information was unclear and not comprehensive. It does not allow the user to fully understand the extent of the processing done by Google. Moreover, the purposes of the processing are described too generally and vaguely, as are the categories of data processed for these purposes. Finally, the user is not informed about the storage periods of some data.

Google has stated that it always seeks the consent of users, in particular for the processing of data to personalise advertisements. However, CNIL declared that the consent was not valid. On the one hand, the consent was based on insufficient information. On the other hand, the consent obtained was neither specific nor unambiguous, as the user gives his or her consent for all the processing operations purposes at once, although the GDPR provides that the consent has to be given specifically for each purpose.

This is the first time CNIL has imposed a penalty under the GDPR. The authority justified the amount of the fine with the gravity of the violations against the essential principles of the GDPR: transparency, information and consent. Furthermore, the infringement was not a one-off, time-limited incident, but a continuous breach of the Regulation. In this regard, according to CNIL, the application of the new GDPR sanction limits is appropriate.

Update: Meanwhile, Google has appealed, due to this a court must decide on the fine in the near future.

ICO announces that Facebook agrees to suspend disclosures of personal data from WhatsApp’s users

8. November 2016

After WhatsApp announced in August changes in its privacy policy, several EU DPAs announced monitoring activities in order to ensure the proper use of WhatsApp user’s data. One of these changes on the privacy policy, involved disclosure of personal data of WhatsApp users to Facebook in order to fight spam and improve both, WhatsApp and Facebook’s services.

The EU DPAs had requested WhatsApp not to carry out such disclosures until an adequate level of data protection could be ensured.

On Monday, ICO announced that Facebook agreed to suspend these disclosures. ICO already remarked that consumers were not adequately protected and in most cases a valid consent was not in place. Moreover, it has requested both companies to undertake in writing to inform users about the purposes for which their data will be used. Until now, none of the companies has signed such committment.

If enforcement action takes place, huge fines may be imposed. This is especially relevant upon the applicability of the GDPR from May 2018.

Other EU DPAs, such as Spain, will contact Facebook regarding WhatsApp’s privacy policy.

On the other side, Facebook stated that it only collects the data necessary to offer their services and only a part of this data is shared with Facebook. A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that WhatsApp’s update complies with applicable law, including UK law and that they will continue the conversations with the ICO regarding the questions raised on the Privacy Policy.

“What’s at stake is individual control of one’s data when they are combined by internet giants”

1. September 2016

The concern due to WhatsApp sharing user information with Facebook is rising, especially in Europe.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, European privacy regulators are investigating WhatsApp’s plan to share the information of their users with its parent company Facebook.

The Article 29 Working Party representing the 28 national data protection authorities released a statement at the beginning of this week saying that its members were following “with great vigilance” the upcoming changes to the privacy policy of WhatsApp due to the fact that the new privacy policy allows WhatsApp to share data with Facebook, whereas the privacy policy only gives existing WhatsApp users the right to opt out of part of the data sharing. Therefore, the Article 29 Working Party concluded “What’s at stake is individual control of one’s data when they are combined by internet giants”.

Furthermore,

  • the ICO also issued a statement last week raising concerns due to the “lack of control”,
  • at the beginning of this week the consumer privacy advocates in the U.S. filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission due to the fact that WhatsApp promised that “nothing would change” when Facebook acquired WhatsAPP two years ago and on top of that
  • the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy turned to the Federal Trade Commission in order to get the confirmation that the upcoming changes to the privacy policy can be seen as “marketing practices” that are “unfair and deceptive trade practices”.
Category: Article 29 WP · EU · UK · USA
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WhatsApp will share user information with Facebook

26. August 2016

Jan Koum, one of WhatsApp’s founders, stated shortly after selling WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 that the deal would not affect the digital privacy of his mobile messaging service with millions of users.

However, according to the New York Times WhatsApp is about to share user information with Facebook. This week, WhatsApp published a statement saying that it will start to disclose phone numbers and analytics data of its users to Facebook. By doing so, it will be the first time that WhatsApp will connect the data of its users to Facebook.

Furthermoere, due to the fact that WhatsApp begins to built a profitable business after its previous little emphasis on revenue, it is now changing its privacy policy to the extent that WhatsApp wants to allow businesses to contact customers directly through its platform.

WhatsApp commented on the new privacy policy “We want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you, too, while still giving you an experience without third-party banner ads and spam”.

The new privacy policy will allow Facebook to use a users’s phone number to improve other Facebook-operated services like making new Facebook friend suggestions or better-tailored advertising.

However, WhatsApp underlines that neither it nor Facebook will be able to read users’ encrypted messages and emphasizes that individual phone numbers will not be given to advertisers.

Koum explained that “Our values and our respect for your privacy continue to guide the decisions we make at WhatsApp” and went on “It’s why we’ve rolled out end-to-end encryption, which means no one can read your messages other than the people you talk to. Not us, not Facebook, nor anyone else” and concluded “Our focus is the same as it’s always been — giving you a fast, simple and reliable way to stay in touch with friends and loved ones around the world.”

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy raises concerns due to the lack of data protection. Therefore, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg commented that it is about to file a complaint next week with the Federal Trade Commission in order to prevent WhatsApp from sharing users’ data with Facebook. Rotenberg justified this approach as “Many users signed up for WhatsApp and not Facebook, precisely because WhatsApp offered, at the time, better privacy practices” he explained “If the F.T.C. does not bring an enforcement action, it means that even when users choose better privacy services, there is no guarantee their data will be protected.”

 

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