In an effort to save face in light of Facebook’s illegal data sharing, WhatsApp has signed a public commitment to distance itself from the humiliated parent company.
Facebook’s data leaking scandal is shaping up to be the biggest tech story of the year, and has already caused significant damage to the company’s reputation and stock prices.
Trouble began when it was discovered that Cambridge Analytica (CA), a shady data analytics firm, had acquired the personal data of over 50 million people through Facebook apps.
The harvest begins
As well as identifying information, like name and age, CA had harvested the “personality data” of users from Likes, comments, and post history.
This data was used to create “psychographic profiles” that sort people’s political leanings, temperament, and spiritual beliefs – to try and dig deep into the minds of each of those 50 million users.
An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News revealed the dark truth behind CA’s tailored propaganda services, when the company’s managing director was secretly recorded.
"You didn't know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that fear from you, and our job is... to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears."- Mark Turnbull: Managing Director, CA Political Global
Dirty tricks and politics
Cambridge Analytica clients include Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, as well as political factions in Mexico, Malaysia, Brazil and Africa.
Facebook had allowed the data to be harvest under the false pretense of “academic research”. As fears around Facebook’s liability skyrocketed, their advertiser agreements and stock price plummeted.
In 2014, WhatsApp was bought by Facebook to operate as a subsidiary company.
This means that, although the money still goes to the same people, Facebook and WhatsApp are legally separate entities.
Following the scandal, WhatsApp signed a “public commitment” document from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
It declares that they will not share any user information with their parent company until they can comply with the Data Protection Regulation Act, which comes into force in May 2018.
Data protection law does not prevent a company from sharing personal data – they just have to follow the legal requirements.- Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner
The ICO has been investigating WhatsApp since August 2016, following a request from the company to share their user’s data with Facebook and other Facebook-owned companies.
The investigation concluded that WhatsApp had no legal grounds to share data with Facebook, and that users were not informed of, and didn’t agree to, any of their personal data being traded.
If any information had been traded in the past, it would have been in severe breach of the current Data Protection Act.
WhatsApp assure the ICO that they have never shared any personal user data with Facebook.