In a letter [140410facebookwhatappltr] to Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer and WhatsApp’s general counsel, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection sits the two parties down for a serious chat about the temptations they might face when they merge their lives together.
Just like that uncle who tells you how marriage can change you, but shouldn’t, the FTC advises that “WhatsApp must continue to honor these [existing] promises to consumers.”
But while that stern uncle’s only recourse is a frown or a scolding if you let your spouse’s bad habits influence you, the FTC has the law on its side, reminding WhatsApp that a if there’s a failure “to honor these promises, both companies could be in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act” and possibly in violation of Facebook’s 2011 settlement with the FTC over allegations that it failed to live up to its privacy promises.
Facebook Chief Adolescent Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg echoed this claim, stating that “We are absolutely not going to change plans around WhatsApp and the way it uses user data.”
According to the FTC, these statements from all involved parties “constitute clear promises to consumers about the collection and use of their data” by WhatsApp and, if the merger goes through, Facebook.
A failure to keep such promises could be a violation of the FTC Act, and the letter reminds both companies that the commission has not hesitated to pursue actions against companies for such violations.
Another issue mentioned in the letter is that 2011 settlement between the FTC and Facebook, which enjoins Facebook and its subsidiaries from misrepresenting the extent to which they maintain the privacy or security of consumers’ personal information. The company is also required to obtain consent before sharing users’ non-public information in a manner that “materially exceeds any privacy setting.”
Should the companies ever decide to make changes to WhatApp policy, the FTC recommends that Facebook “offer consumers an opportunity to opt out of such changes or, at least, that you make clear to consumers that they have an opportunity to stop using the WhatsApp service.”
“Hundreds of millions of users have entrusted their personal information to WhatsApp,” concludes the letter. “The FTC staff will continue to monitor the companies’ practices to ensure that Facebook and WhatsApp honor the promises they have made to those users.”