A first letter in January, then a second missive in June. Between the two, WhatsApp’s responses deemed insufficient to questions from the European Commission concerning the evolution of its conditions of use and its economic model. Because around these subjects revolves an essential subject: the data of Internet users, especially Europeans.
Addressed to the messaging app in early June, the letter contains three requests:
- WhatsApp must say how the service plans to communicate upcoming changes to its terms of service;
- The platform must use intelligible language so that the consequences of these changes can be easily understood;
- The service must also specify if[il] derives revenue from commercial user data policies.»
The monetization of WhatsApp worries Brussels
All of these text explanations come after the fiasco of the last major instant messaging rules refresh, which occurred sometime in 2021. At the time, WhatsApp was swept up in controversy. The problem ? The app is preparing to share more data with its parent company, Meta (ex-Facebook), in order to better monetize the service.
Subsidiary of Meta since 2014, WhatsApp still has an economic model to build, unlike Instagram, Meta Quest (ex-Oculus) or even Facebook. One avenue that is being considered is that of connecting customers and businesses via the app, but this requires sharing information with Facebook to put the right people in contact with each other.
Brussels is not opposed to Facebook looking for a way to make WhatsApp a new source of income, but this should not be done at the expense of the European legislative framework, which is very finicky when it comes to data. Internet users — this is moreover a point on which the European Commission insists more in this new letter.
« WhatsApp must ensure that users understand what they are agreeing to and how their personal data is used for commercial purposes, in particular to offer services to commercial partners “Warned Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice. Clearly, WhatsApp must make its business model more transparent.
The European Commission is closely following the WhatsApp file, because the app is one of the most used in the world for instant discussions – it is estimated that more than two billion Internet users use it worldwide . Above all, the WhatsApp app is itself linked to the largest social network, Facebook, which also has billions of members.
Brussels is not unaware, moreover, of the particular economic model of Facebook, which is based on the monetization of personal data, nor of the accusations against the company in this matter — which could be summed up in one sentence: the site is criticized for systematically favoring profits over everything else. But there are also many other criticisms.
Above all, Europe has not forgotten the tricks in the case of the takeover of WhatsApp by Facebook. Brian Acton, the founder of the app, has suggested that his former management would have pushed him to lie to the Commission during the process of buying WhatsApp by Facebook and about the sharing of data between the two services.
In 2017, the European Commission fined Facebook 110 million euros for ” provided inaccurate or misleading information during the Commission’s investigation in 2014 […] regarding the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook “. Five years later, Brussels would like to avoid another unpleasant surprise of this kind.