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Three Dozen Groups Worldwide Call on Facebook to Restore Privacy Protections for WhatsApp Users

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen and three dozen other social justice, labor, and digital rights organizations from around the globe are calling on Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg to reverse course on WhatsApp’s May 15, 2020 privacy policy revisions. Facebook intends for WhatsApp to contribute directly to its revenues at the expense of user privacy.

Facebook has presented WhatsApp users with a devastating ultimatum: Accept our invasive changes or leave WhatsApp forever. The changes will allow Facebook to collect payment and transaction data from WhatsApp users. This means Facebook will be able to gather even more data and target WhatsApp users with ever more personalized ads.

“Facebook must be broken up, not permitted to further integrate the disparate services it never should have been permitted to agglomerate,” said Burcu Kilic, digital rights program director for Public Citizen. “This latest move to encroach upon the privacy of WhatsApp users is further proof that Facebook is using exploitative practices and abusing its dominant market power. We call on legislators worldwide to ‘Stop Facebook and Save WhatsApp.’”

The new privacy policy endangers one of the most important channels of communication around the globe. The messaging app has two billion users worldwide who rely on WhatsApp to talk to their families, friends, colleagues, and communities. It is the leading messaging app in all but 25 countries, easily outperforming Facebook’s signature Messenger app and China’s WeChat. And in the U.S. about half of all Latinos use the app, totaling around 32 million users.

Once again, Facebook is set to break the promise it made to users when the tech giant bought the messaging app in 2014. “We are absolutely not going to change plans around WhatsApp and the way it uses user data,” Zuckerberg claimed. “WhatsApp is going to operate completely autonomously.”

Facebook’s broken promises began in 2016. Presenting a routine “update” on WhatsApp’s terms and conditions, Facebook was given access to a range of user data for users who did not “opt-out” within 30 days’ notice. This included account information, phone numbers, login frequency and duration, information about how users interact with each other, IP addresses, browser details, language, time zone, and more. Although many users opted out, millions were left completely unaware of this option. The approximately one billion WhatsApp users who joined after 2016 were given no choice at all.

The European Union is exempt from Facebook’s policy change thanks to privacy protections that are noticeably absent elsewhere. The groups maintain that WhatsApp users everywhere are entitled to the same privacy protections as Europeans.