WhatsApp privacy update prompts latest in ‘cycle’ of regulatory scrutiny, Facebook exec says

By Vesela Gladicheva. First published on MLex 10 November 2016.

Facebook finds itself stuck in a “cycle” of burdensome rounds of regulatory scrutiny each time it updates its privacy policies, a senior executive has said.

Defending a recent change to subsidiary WhatsApp’s privacy policy — which has attracted queries from watchdogs across the EU and the US — Facebook vice-president Lord Richard Allan said that energy and resources should be redirected to efforts to better inform users of company changes to privacy practices.

Allan made the remarks during a conference in Brussels, as privacy watchdogs in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK continue investigating whether WhatsApp’s move in August to share user data with Facebook complies with data-protection rules. In the US, privacy advocates have formally asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the change.

“After seven years at the company and having issued multiple privacy-policy updates, I can’t yet say that we’ve got to the stage where we can launch a privacy-policy update, and nothing will happen,” Allan said.

“It will be routine business” for data-protection authorities to investigate updates, he said.

Facebook finds itself “locked” into a “repeated cycle” where “serious and well-intentioned privacy professionals” at the social network and national privacy regulators expend “huge amounts of effort” to resolve probes into privacy-policy updates.

“We spend months, and in some cases years, arguing over . . . legal documentation,” Allan said.

That’s not “the most productive use of resources,” he said.

Facebook now aims to break that cycle and devote the energy of its privacy experts to reaching out to a wider range of people and explaining better how users’ data are used.

For example, the company will try to present bitesize pieces of information about location-based and other services, Allan said.