What’s Up, WhatsApp?!

In a GDPR urgency proceeding, the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HmbBfDI), Johannes Caspar, has taken action against Facebook. The aim of this proceeding – whose decision is expected before May 15, 2021 – is to comprehensively protect WhatsApp users in Germany, who are confronted with the company’s new terms of use. Against this backdrop, May 15 can be emphasized as an important deadline, since by that date users must consent to data processing by the parent company Facebook. The fear is, that the data will be used in particular for marketing purposes, which goes beyond the scope of analysis and security.

After Facebook had announced the new terms and conditions at the beginning of this year, a discussion arouse. As a result, the company decided to postpone the introduction to May. With many million Whatsapp users in Germany alone, Johannes Caspar now stressed the importance of having functioning institutions in place, in order to prevent the misuse of data power. At this point, Caspar could not exclude, that the data-sharing provisions between WhatsApp and Facebook would be enforced illegally, due to the lack of voluntary and informed consent. In order to prevent a potentially unlawful exchange of data and to put an end to any impermissible pressure on users for giving their consent, the formal administrative procedure was initiated.

Based on Art. 66 GDPR (“exceptional circumstances”), the emergency procedure is aimed at the European headquarters in Ireland. The American company is given the opportunity to state its position, whereby it can be expected that Facebook will consider the adjustments to be sufficient. However, the Hamburg data protection authorities had already issued an injunction against such data matching in 2016. Although Facebook took legal action, the company did not prevail in court (OVG Hamburg, February 26, 2018 – 5 Bs 93/17 – K&R 2018, 282).

The outcome of the proceedings in Hamburg is eagerly awaited since it may have an impact on the entire European market, given the direct applicability of Art. 66 GDPR in the different Member States. Although the decision from 2018 could delineate a trend, the outcome is open.

Dario Henri Haux

See the media statement at: https://datenschutz-hamburg.de/pressemitteilungen/2021/04/2021-04-13-facebook