Big winners in windfall from WhatsApp likely to be the lawyers

The €225m is unlikely to reach State coffers in time for the 2023 – or even the 2024 – budget

WhatsApp was hit with a fine of €225 million this week, following an investigation into GDPR practices at the company. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

WhatsApp was hit with a fine of €225 million this week, following an investigation into GDPR practices at the company. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The assumption must be that Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe did not learn of his €225 million WhatsApp windfall via the messaging service itself.

But the imposition of a huge fine on the Facebook subsidiary from Helen Dixon, the Data Protection Commissioner, will not have gone unnoticed in Merrion Street. WhatsApp violation of GDPR privacy laws was bad news for its users, and non-users, who were also hit in a “particularly severe” way.

Such fines revert to the exchequer eventually, good news of sorts then, even if this one won’t come in on time for the October budget. WhatsApp was quick to signal a court appeal against the penalty, which it claims is disproportionate. So the money is unlikely even to reach the State coffers in time for the 2023 budget, in 13 months, and possibly not even for the 2024 budget. The likelihood is that Donohoe won’t be minister for finance by the time this is eventually resolved.

If WhatsApp wins its appeal, there would be a good chance of a counterappeal by Dixon. The record fine came only after she was directed by the European Data Protection Board to sharply increase her proposed sanction of up to €50 million so it too is likely to be drawn into the case. In effect, Dixon was acting for Europeans in the “one-stop-shop” GDPR investigation.

WhatsApp has two options: the High Court, with potential for action in the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and then the European courts; or a direct appeal to the European Court, with scope still for a further appeal to its ruling.

This has all the makings of a bonanza for lawyers on all sides, if not imminently for the finance minister. The cheque is not the post.

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