Whatsapp Slammed €5.5 million GDPR Violation Fine

On Thursday, Meta’s WhatsApp was slammed with new fines totaling €5.5 million from the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) for GDPR Violation (breaking data protection regulations when handling users’ confidential data.)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented in May 2018 and the days leading up to its implementation included an update to the messaging platform’s Terms of Service that required users to accept the updated terms in order to continue using the service or risk losing access.

According to the complaint, which was made by the privacy non-profit NOYB, WhatsApp violated the law by “making the accessibility of its services conditional on users accepting the updated Terms of Service” and “consenting to the processing of their personal data for service improvement and security.”

“WhatsApp Ireland is not entitled to rely on the contract legal basis for the delivery of service improvement and security,” the DPC said in a statement, adding the data collected so far amounts to a contravention of GDPR.

The messaging app has also been given a six-month deadline to put its operations into compliance in addition to the fine. It’s important to note that Dublin serves as Meta’s European base.

However, the DPC stated that it will not look into whether WhatsApp uses user metadata for ads, referring to it as “open-ended and speculative.” NOYB responded by criticizing the authority for failing to take action.

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“WhatsApp says it’s encrypted, but this is only true for the content of chats – not the metadata,” NOYB’s Max Schrems said. “WhatsApp still knows who you chat with most and at what time. This allows Meta to get a very close understanding of the social fabric around you.”

“Meta uses this information to, for example, target ads that friends were already interested in,” Schrems further added. It seems the DPC has now simply refused to decide on this matter, despite 4.5 years of investigations.”

Whats App notably received blowback in early 2021, when it announced a similar update to its privacy policy that required users to accept the changes to continue using the service, prompting the European Commission to issue a warning, urging the company to “clearly inform” consumers of its business model.

“In particular, Whats App is encouraged to show how it plans to communicate any future updates to its terms of service, and to do so in a way that consumers can easily understand the implications of such updates and freely decide they want to continue using WhatsApp after these updates,” the Commission said in June 2022.

See More: Facebook fined for GDPR Violations

On top of that, WhatsApp has previously attracted scrutiny for taking a U-turn on its data sharing practices with parent company Meta (then Facebook) for ad targeting. In 2017, the E.U. fined the social media giant €110 million for “providing incorrect or misleading information” during its probe into the merger following the acquisition of WhatsApp in 2014.

The DPC gave Meta three months to find a legitimate legal justification for processing personal data for behavioral advertising when it fined the business €390 million for handling user data for serving personalized ads in Facebook and Instagram two weeks prior to the DPC’s most recent penalty.

In its letter to the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), NOYB claimed that the watchdog had “turned a blind eye to the revenue produced from violating the GDPR when calculating its fine” and that “the DPC’s maneuver saved Meta almost €4 billion.”

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