Hamburg regulator orders Facebook to stop collecting data

Company is accumulating information from WhatsApp unit

Hamburg's data regulator has ordered Facebook to stop collecting German user data from its WhatsApp unit, saying the company's attempt to make users agree to the practice in its updated terms isn't legal.

Hamburg watchdog Johannes Caspar issued a three-month emergency order, prohibiting Facebook from continuing with the data collection. He’s also asking a panel of European data regulators to take action and issue a bloc-wide regulation. The new WhatsApp terms formally authorising the data scoop were invalid because they were intransparent, inconsistent and overly broad, he said.

“The order aims to secure the rights and freedoms of millions of users which are agreeing to the terms Germany-wide,” Mr Caspar said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We need to prevent damage and disadvantages linked to such a black-box procedure.”


Commenting on the Hamburg action, a WhatsApp spokesperson said: “The Hamburg DPA’s order against Facebook is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and effect of WhatsApp’s update and, therefore, has no legitimate basis.

“Our recent update explains the options people have to message a business on WhatsApp and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. As the Hamburg DPA’s claims are wrong, the order will not impact the continued rollout of the update. We remain fully committed to delivering secure and private communications for everyone.”


The company has faced global criticism over the new terms WhatsApp users are required to accept by May 15th. Caspar said Facebook may already be wrongfully handling data and said it was important to prevent misuse of the information to influence the German national election in September.

The order strikes at the heart of Facebook’s business model and advertising strategy. It echoes a similar and contested step by Germany’s antitrust office attacking the network’s habit of collecting data about what users do online and merging the information with their Facebook profiles. That trove of information allows ads to be tailored to individual users – creating a cash cow for Facebook. – Bloomberg