FTC approves $19B Facebook-WhatsApp deal — with a caveat

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By Justin Lafferty

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The Federal Trade Commission approved Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp on Thursday, but issued a warning to the messaging app that it needs to keep its pre-Facebook level of privacy in place.

Bureau Director Jessica Rich wrote a letter to both companies’ legal counsel, noting that before making any changes to how Facebook uses data already collected from WhatsApp users, both companies must get affirmative consent. Facebook/WhatsApp also must not misrepresent their efforts in maintaining the privacy and security of data. Rich also recommends that WhatsApp users be able to opt out of any future changes to how newly-collected data is used.

Rich warned both companies about the way that users’ data privacy is respected moving forward:

Before changing WhatsApp’s privacy practices in connection with, or following, any acquisition, you must take steps to ensure that you are not in violation of the law or the FTC’s order. First, if you choose to use data collected by WhatsApp in a manner that is materially inconsistent with the promises WhatsApp made at the time of collection, you must obtain consumers’ affirmative consent before doing so. Second, you must not misrepresent in any manner the extent to which you maintain, or plan to maintain, the privacy or security of WhatsApp user data. Failure to take these steps could constitute a violation of Section 5 and/or the FTC’s order against Facebook. Finally, if you choose to change how you collect, use, and share newly-collected WhatsApp data, we recommend that you offer consumers an opportunity to opt out of such changes or, at least, that you make clear to consumers that they have an opportunity to stop using the WhatsApp service.

Hundreds of millions of users have entrusted their personal information to WhatsApp. The FTC staff will continue to monitor the companies’ practices to ensure that Facebook and WhatsApp honor the promises they have made to those users.

Readers: Do you think that Facebook will make good on the FTC recommendations?