Privacy Groups Ask FTC To Block Facebook Deal for WhatsApp

It seems Mark Zuckerberg can't buy a bag of groceries these days without raising concerns from privacy activists. But the Facebook founder's multibillion-dollar acquisition of WhatsApp, which allows more than 400 million people to exchange messages and photos, is of so much concern to the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy that the non-profit groups want the government to intervene.

A complaint filed Thursday with the Federal Trade Commission by the two organizations, which we reviewed online, notes that WhatsApp built its reputation and its user base on a commitment not to collect user data for advertising revenue. Facebook, on the other hand, routinely makes use of that data and intends to incorporate WhatsApp data into its user-profiling business model.

App-Rehension

What's at stake? The plaintiffs cite press reports that WhatsApp, founded in 2009 in California by Jan Koum and Brian Acton, processed 27 billion user messages in one day in June 2013. When Facebook's $19 billion deal was announced, the app had a reported 450 million monthly users exchanging 50 billion messages a day.

Facebook routinely incorporates data from applications it acquires, say the plaintiffs, and when it revamped its messaging system in 2010 it automatically opted all users in.

All this means that people who downloaded and used WhatsApp did so without knowing that their data would one day end up in Facebook's Menlo Park servers.

In fact, the app's data mine may have been a primary asset in the deal.

"Facebook is not only buying a popular messaging app, it is also acquiring the addresses and telephone numbers of 450 million users worldwide," Wim Nauwelaerts, a lawyer specializing in European Union data protection, told Bloomberg News in a quote included in the complaint.

The FTC has grounds to block the acquisition because federal law prohibits unfair and deceptive acts and practices...

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