WhatsApp keeping address book details illegally?

WhatsApp keeping address book details illegally?

WhatsApp is a wonderfully simple to use and hugely popular messaging app for pretty much any mobile phone platform. How many people who use it know that they maybe giving out other people’s private data, only for it to be stored on WhatsApp’s servers in a potential breach of privacy laws?


WhatsApp’s widespread use is partly down to the fact that as soon as you install it you can see who else is using it. It also actively encourages you to persuade anyone you know to use it if they’re not already. How does it know all this though? Well, it’s because when installing it and accepting their access permissions you are giving them complete access to your contacts. You’re either happy with that or didn’t read the access requirements.

That’s all very well, but did you ask all your contacts if they minded an app uploading their details and cross-referencing them against the millions of other contacts they have in their database? Probably not. I know I didn’t!

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and the Dutch Data Protection Authority, released a joint report today stating that the app violated privacy laws because users have to provide access to all phone numbers in their address book. For existing users of the app, that’s fine (they’ve accepted the access permissions), the problem is that details of non-users of the app are collected too.

Jacob Kohnstamm, chairman of the Dutch Data Protection Authority said:

“This lack of choice contravenes (Canadian and Dutch) privacy law. Both users and non-users should have control over their personal data and users must be able to freely decide what contact details they wish to share with WhatsApp”

WhatsApp was not immediately available to comment.

If you’ve installed WhatsApp on an Android phone you have agreed to give the app the following permissions:

YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION
READ YOUR CONTACTS
Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge. Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals. This permission allows apps to save your contact data, and malicious apps may share contact data without your knowledge.
MODIFY YOUR CONTACTS
Allows the app to modify the data about your contacts stored on your tablet, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific contacts. This permission allows apps to delete contact data. Allows the app to modify the data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific contacts. This permission allows apps to delete contact data.

And their website terms include the sentences:

You expressly acknowledge and agree that in order to provide the Service, WhatsApp may periodically access your contact list and/or address book on your mobile device to find and keep track of mobile phone numbers of other users of the Service. When providing your mobile phone number, you must provide accurate and complete information. You hereby give your express consent to WhatsApp to access your contact list and/or address book for mobile phone numbers in order to provide and use the Service.

Whilst this report only mentions Canadian and Dutch laws, it’s understood that most countries have very similar laws in this respect, meaning this could be a very big deal for one of the top five downloaded apps in the world.

Source: Reuters

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  • uncle bob

    Funnily enough, my wife wanted this app on her phone to chat with a friend abroad… I couldn’t believe the T&C’s when I read them! Glad you guys are making people aware of this highly intrusive app.