Facebook's dodgy privacy record prompts FTC warning over WhatsApp buy

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Facebook's dodgy privacy record is prompting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take the extraordinary step of warning the social media giant about its proposed $19 billion acquisition of mobile messaging startup WhatsApp.

In March, two privacy groups--the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy--filed a complaint with the FTC noting that Facebook's use of subscriber information for advertising would violate WhatsApp's privacy pledge to its subscribers. 

In an April 10 release, the FTC cited Facebook's history before the federal agency, in which the social media firm was forced to admit that it deceived consumers by failing to keep its privacy promises. As part of its settlement with the FTC, Facebook agreed to get "affirmative consent" from consumers before overriding their privacy settings.

In a letter to Facebook and WhatsApp, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau, warned that if WhatsApp fails to honor its current privacy protections for subscribers after the Facebook acquisition, both companies could face regulatory action.

Rich noted that WhatsApp's privacy policies are stricter than Facebook's policies and that WhatsApp has to maintain those stricter policies after the acquisition.

"WhatsApp's privacy policy clearly states, among other things, that users' information will not be used for advertising purposes or sold to a third party for commercial or marketing use without the users' consent. Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp would not nullify these promises and WhatsApp and Facebook would continue to be bound by them," Rich writes.

If Facebook intends to use WhatsApp subscriber data in ways different from the policy, it must get "affirmative consent" from WhatsApp users and not "misrepresent" how that data will be used.

"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," Rich concludes.

For more:
- check out the FTC release
- read the Rich letter
- see the privacy groups' complaint

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