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WhatsApp Accused of Violating International Privacy Laws

By - Source: Priv | B 18 comments

Mobile instant messenger app uploads users' entire list of phone numbers.

Popular cross-platform mobile instant messenger WhatsApp has been accused by Canadian and Dutch data protection authorities of violating international privacy laws.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Dutch Data Protection Authority announced their findings for what they call a "collaborative investigation into the handling of personal information." The two say that WhatsApp requiring users to provide their entire contact list to the service violates data and privacy laws.

"The investigation revealed that users of WhatsApp -- apart from iPhone users who have iOS 6 software -- do not have a choice to use the app without granting access to their entire address book. The address book contains phone numbers of both users and non-users," said Jacob Johnstamm, chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority.

iPhone users who have iOS 6 installed are asked if they wish to allow an application to access sensitive data on the smartphone including location and contact list data.

WhatsApp requires a user's phone number to create a contacts list within the app. The user's phone numbers are transmitted to WhatsApp to assist "in the identification of other WhatsApp users." However, as opposed to deleting the phone numbers of non-users, WhatsApp retains the numbers in an unreadable hash form.

The practice violates both Canadian and Dutch privacy law. Both state that personal data can only be retained for as long as is needed to fulfill a given service's requirements.

"Both users and non-users should have control over their personal data and users must be able to freely decide what contact details they wish to share with WhatsApp," Johnstamm continued.

"Our investigation has led to WhatsApp making and committing to make further changes in order to better protect users' personal information," added Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart.

The Dutch authority will examine the developer's case in a "second phase" where "further enforcement actions" may come to fruition, which includes the possibility of sanctions. The Canadian authority, while it doesn't have the power to instill sanctions, will be monitoring the California-based developer.

WhatsApp's users send 10 billion messages per day, the equivalent of 300 billion messages per month. Social network leader Facebook is rumored to be interested in an acquisition of the firm.

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Display 18 Comments.
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  • -4 Hide
    scythe944 , January 29, 2013 6:03 PM
    Well, glad I don't have an idiotphone or this app.
  • -2 Hide
    Vorador2 , January 29, 2013 6:19 PM
    You know, it's perfectly made clear when you're installing the app. If you don't like that it needs access to your address book, don't use it.

    The only problem could be what Whatsapp is doing with the contacts, but it is explained in the category Privacy in the terms of use.

    So this is pretty much a waste of time for everyone.
  • 0 Hide
    dns7950 , January 29, 2013 6:22 PM
    scythe944Well, glad I don't have an idiotphone or this app.

    I hate Apple and am usually the first one to bash iPhones, but when I say something I usually have a reason for it... This is just a reading comprehension fail, the article clearly states that "iPhone users who have iOS 6 installed are asked if they wish to allow an application to access sensitive data on the smartphone including location and contact list data.".. Meaning this privacy violation affects everyone EXCEPT iPhone 5 users. So you are glad you don't have an iPhone, because you would really hate it if you had the option of not allowing an app to download your contact list? Learn to read the article before you make moronic comments..
  • 3 Hide
    thecolorblue , January 29, 2013 6:51 PM
    Vorador2You know, it's perfectly made clear when you're installing the app. If you don't like that it needs access to your address book, don't use it.The only problem could be what Whatsapp is doing with the contacts, but it is explained in the category Privacy in the terms of use.So this is pretty much a waste of time for everyone.

    "The practice violates both Canadian and Dutch privacy law."
  • 0 Hide
    santfu , January 29, 2013 7:54 PM
    @ dns7950

    Do you have a chip on your shoulder? I suspect that scythe944 was making a comment against all SMARTphones, see idiot is opposite to smart. clever eh?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 29, 2013 11:45 PM
    @ dns7950

    I'm pretty sure scythe944 was not talking about the iPhone. Let's read the moronic comments before making equally moronic comments. As Vorador2 put it, "this is pretty much a waste of time for everyone."
  • 0 Hide
    raytseng , January 29, 2013 11:47 PM
    Yet no lawsuit on the mobile phone providers that have the monopoly to charge 20cents for a few kilobytes of data transfer over their cell networks; which is the main reason why this app is so popular to begin with...
  • 0 Hide
    olaf , January 30, 2013 4:35 AM
    Read the terms ffs dont like it dont use it....stop crying over every meaningless shit...
  • 0 Hide
    plasmastorm , January 30, 2013 8:36 AM
    What all of you who babble on about "read the t's &c's, if you dont like dont use" seem to fail to realise is that when it uploads your entire phonebook those numbers are other peoples. And they may not be too happy about you essentially giving their data away for what will most likely in the future be used for spam etc.
    I give it a few months before someone in the US sues a friend over this.
  • 0 Hide
    alyoshka , January 30, 2013 8:51 AM
    Every app asks you what you want the app to access and what you don't. As far as I see the point, the Hashed numbers are stored on the users Phone and not on WhatsApp's servers....
    But I can understand the 300Billion messages that were sent free with as a loss to the telecos instead as being sent as messages that are charged..... and then having an Apple tinge in the whole thing makes complete sense....
  • 0 Hide
    olaf , January 30, 2013 9:07 AM
    I still say that the underlying problem is with the smartphone os's and not the app. Regarding people suing eachother over this in the states, what can you expect when a society is used to sue eacbother for a hang nail in order to get some fee money.
  • 0 Hide
    wemakeourfuture , January 30, 2013 11:43 AM
    Vorador2You know, it's perfectly made clear when you're installing the app. If you don't like that it needs access to your address book, don't use it.The only problem could be what Whatsapp is doing with the contacts, but it is explained in the category Privacy in the terms of use.So this is pretty much a waste of time for everyone.


    Terms of Service don't mean anything if they violate the laws of a nation. You clearly do not understand basic law.

    Does not matter what Facebook, WhatsApp or any other companies Terms of Service is. The Privacy Commissioner in Canada will enforce Canadian Privacy Law on any company doing business in Canada / has Canadian customers. These companies' Terms of Service MUST comply with Privacy Laws and cannot contradict them even if stated in their Terms of Service.
  • 2 Hide
    wemakeourfuture , January 30, 2013 11:50 AM
    olafRead the terms ffs dont like it dont use it....stop crying over every meaningless shit...


    You're dumb.. Simple. If you're in a country and have laws and company must abide by the laws. If a company is violating the laws then their service and/or products must be in compliant with the law. In this case they do not comply with Canadian and Dutch Privacy Law.

    You obviously do not know anything about this, just to give you additional history. Facebook's terms of service and use of private information contradicted Canadian Privacy Law. Facebook was made to changed how they handled user's deleted data which ended up changing not only how Facebook handled private information in Canada (for the good) but for all the users on Earth. Now a billion Facebook users can thank Canada's Privacy Commissioner for having more control over their information.

    Doesn't matter what a company's Terms of Service or what you agree to are! It must comply with the law.

    You can sign an employment contract that says you get paid $0.50 an hour and horrible work conditions in Canada. This is UNLAWFUL, does not matter if you agree, the company's policy violates Canadian Labour Laws and a court would easily award you (the worker) with the rightful compensation and work conditions no matter what was agreed upon.
  • 0 Hide
    Pherule , January 30, 2013 2:38 PM
    I only wish you could run WhatsApp on a PC. Natively, without a friggin android box.
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , January 30, 2013 3:54 PM
    Vorador2You know, it's perfectly made clear when you're installing the app. If you don't like that it needs access to your address book, don't use it.The only problem could be what Whatsapp is doing with the contacts, but it is explained in the category Privacy in the terms of use.So this is pretty much a waste of time for everyone.


    hey brainless, how long have you been hanging out smoking your last brain cells with george w bush?
    i don't have an idiot phone, nor DID I OR DO I consent for some one else to give away my number to some other party, do you see the violation now? if not i'll send my recommendation you be allowed into the D.E.A. storage evidence lock up and you can finish the job that's apparently almost complete with a few tons of premium whatever it takes to snuff your life out using your own two hands, because quiet frankly the only thing you're good for is fertilizer, and apparently you are quiet full of it with what you just spouted out.
  • -1 Hide
    mrjhh , January 30, 2013 10:13 PM
    The terms and conditions of using WhatsApp are pretty explicit that it is intended for use within the US, and to be governed by California law. Perhaps the terms have changed since this case was brought, but why should WhatsApp be required to cowtow to every foreign demand, when they are not located in or do any business in those other countries? They certainly aren't charging for the app, so no business is being done in the foreign country.

    At most, the Dutch government could pressure Google to remove WhatsApp from the Play store in Holland. That is if they want to be seen as being like Pakistan and others who censor YouTube, they could do this. Since Canada can't sanction, I'm not sure why they even bother with their privacy agency.

    California has stricter privacy laws than most other US states, so if the terms are against California law, then there is a case to be made, but only under California law, and California law only protects Californians, and is pretty much limited to having a privacy policy.
  • 0 Hide
    wemakeourfuture , January 31, 2013 11:05 AM
    mrjhhThe terms and conditions of using WhatsApp are pretty explicit that it is intended for use within the US, and to be governed by California law. Perhaps the terms have changed since this case was brought, but why should WhatsApp be required to cowtow to every foreign demand, when they are not located in or do any business in those other countries? They certainly aren't charging for the app, so no business is being done in the foreign country.At most, the Dutch government could pressure Google to remove WhatsApp from the Play store in Holland. That is if they want to be seen as being like Pakistan and others who censor YouTube, they could do this. Since Canada can't sanction, I'm not sure why they even bother with their privacy agency.California has stricter privacy laws than most other US states, so if the terms are against California law, then there is a case to be made, but only under California law, and California law only protects Californians, and is pretty much limited to having a privacy policy.


    1. You don't understand law
    2. If you do business in a country you're bound by those laws
    I) Either you make the change globally for that product to fit all laws (ex. Facebook had to change how they handled deleted users due to Canada Privacy Law, and applied the new and better deletion process across the globe)
    II) You provide a variant that is compliant with that nation's law (ex. Apple must provide a Micro USB adapter / wire with its device since the European Union has a regulation that all mobile devices must charge with a standard Micro-USB. Apple did not change their products but provide a variant for that market).

    Also, Canada can't sanction, what are you talking about? The Privacy Commissioner's recommendation to comply with Canadian law over an app would never go to the level of national sanctions against America. Who cares if they can't sanction, that has no bearing on this case or other similar ones in the past (ex. Facebook). It will just require compliance with the law in a reasonable time or not be allowed since it violates the law (Privacy Law).

    A Canadian citizen, or Dutch, or whoever is not bound by California law, its bound by their respective nations law. Perhaps you should study law in high school or read some basic 101 books before you're critical on anything.
  • 0 Hide
    Kand , February 2, 2013 12:00 PM
    i got this crap software on my sony xperia by default but it doesn`t even work...uninstalled
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