WhatsApp Under Scrutiny as Germany Probes Messaging Apps

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and other messaging services will be investigated by German regulators, who will check how they handle users’ personal information and whether being able to send messages between different providers could boost privacy.

Germany’s Federal Cartel Office said on Thursday it opened a sector inquiry into messenger services, citing possible violations of consumer protection law. It said the probe may also help regulators “gain insight” into whether enabling apps to send messages to each other could prompt users to choose services that do more to protect privacy.

“It is questionable whether and to what extent these services protect personal data,” Andreas Mundt, the regulator’s president, said in the statement. The probe will “also examine whether and to what extent improved interoperability could play a role in, for example, the consumers’ choice of suppliers which offer better data protection.”

WhatsApp is themost used messaging app for Germans using Android devices with more than 7 million daily users, according to Statista. Facebook’s Messenger follows with 2.8 milion daily users and Microsoft Corp.’s Skype has some 1.8 million daily users.

Facebook declined to immediately comment on the investigation.

WhatsApp only shares limited information with Facebook companies to help identify users and doesn’t share data that would aid ad targeting on Facebook. The company said it will only share such data if it has approval from Irish privacy regulators, who govern Facebook’s business in Europe.

Facebook was last a target of the Federal Cartel Office over an antitrust investigation that focused on how the social network tracks users’ web use. Facebook earlier this yearlost a court challenge to the 2019 ruling that ordered it to stop freely collecting and using data and combining it with users’ Facebook accounts without their consent.

The authority broke new ground by using antitrust law to tackle data privacy. It has no power under consumer law to order a company to stop certain behavior.

— With assistance by Stephanie Bodoni

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