This article was published on May 11, 2021

Facebook banned from processing WhatsApp user data in Germany

A German regulator said WhatsApp's new privacy policy is illegal

Facebook banned from processing WhatsApp user data in Germany Image by: vectors icon/Anton from Pexels

A German data regulator has banned Facebook from processing personal data from WhatsApp users in the country, saying that the app’s controversial new privacy policy update is illegal.

The Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HmbBfDI) issued a three-month emergency ban on Tuesday, which is permitted under the General Data Protection Regulation. The watchdog will now seek a binding decision covering the whole EU from the European Data Protection Board (EDPB).

In a statement, the regulator cited concerns with WhatsApp’s privacy policy, which is due to roll out on May 15:

The provisions on data transfers are scattered at different levels of the privacy policy, they are unclear and hard to distinguish in their European and international versions. In addition, the contents are misleading and show considerable contradictions. Even after close analysis, it is not clear what consequences approval has for users. Furthermore, consent is not freely given, since WhatsApp demands acceptance of the new provisions as a condition for the continued use of the service’s functionalities.

The watchdog argued that the new terms of use are therefore illegal.

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Johannes Caspar, who heads the authority, said the order aimed to protect the rights and freedoms of the nearly 60 million WhatsApp users in Germany. He also cited fears about their data being used to influence voters’ decisions in the September federal elections in the country:

The worldwide criticism against the new terms of service should give reason to fundamentally rethink the consent mechanism once again. Without user trust, no business model based on data can be successful in the long run.

In response, Facebook said it’s considering an appeal against the ban. A WhatsApp spokesperson said the order is “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of WhatsApp’s update and therefore has no legitimate basis.” They added that the order “will not impact the continued roll-out of the update.”

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