The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will write to WhatsApp asking it not to share user data with its parent company Facebook after millions of users worldwide left the messaging platform to protect their information.
Appearing Tuesday during an online parliamentary committee meeting aired on Parliament TV, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said WhatsApp had committed to not share its users’ information and data with Facebook without having proved it respected the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that was passed by the EU in 2018.
Speaking to the digital, culture, media and sport sub-committee on online harms and disinformation, Denham said “the change in the terms of service and the requirement of users to share information with Facebook does not apply to UK users or to users in the EU.”
In 2017, her office had “negotiated with WhatsApp so that they agreed not to share user information and contact information until they could show that they complied with the GDPR.”
Prior to the UK leaving the EU on Jan. 1, 2021, the GDPR was enforced by the Irish Data Protection Authority, and it was the latter’s job to oversee the operations of WhatsApp. But now that the UK is no longer a member of the bloc, the responsibility of these protections falls within the ICO’s jurisdiction.
The recent move by the ICO follows the exodus of millions of WhatsApp users worldwide who have left the once popular platform and have now joined alternative and privacy protective competitors such as Signal and Telegram.
“What’s really interesting about WhatsApp’s announcement on its ongoing sharing with Facebook is how many users voted with their virtual feet and left the platform to take up membership with Telegram or Signal,” the commissioner said, adding “users expect companies to maintain their trust and not to suddenly change the contract that they have with the users.”
Despite the planned changes to its privacy laws, messages on WhatsApp will still be protected by end-to-end encryption, and Facebook or any other tech giant will not be able to access users’ messages or content.
In the months following WhatsApp’s announcement, Signal and Telegram have added millions of users to their platforms. Prior to the announcement, Signal was an unknown platform that did not even register in the top 1,000 apps in the UK. It is now one of the most downloaded apps in the country.