When Facebook purchased WhatsApp in 2014, CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised that WhatsApp’s privacy standards would be maintained. “We are absolutely not going to change plans around WhatsApp and the way it uses user data. WhatsApp is going to operate completely autonomously.” This promise has been broken again and again.
In 2016, presenting a routine “update” on WhatsApp’s terms and conditions, Facebook gained access to a range of user data, giving users only 30 days to opt out. Many did not realize they could so in time, while the approximately one billion WhatsApp users who joined after 2016 were given no choice at all.
The story of WhatsApp is also an integral part of the story currently being told about one of today’s most influential corporate behemoths, Facebook, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years for the existential threat it poses to our democracy, no less. Facebook stands guilty of successive breaches of user privacy, from sharing data with advertisers to granting third-party access to user information as well as market abuses. The company has fallen under ever greater scrutiny since the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018. And this scrutiny must continue.
Facebook proving once again that it will not miss a chance to abuse its monopoly position to extract as much data from us as possible, by relying on the fact that we will soon have nowhere left to go communicate out of their reach, is the perfect illustration of why the regulators must take this moment to take an action.