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We won’t share users’ WhatsApp contacts, Facebook tells SA watchdog

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Facebook has denied it intends sharing WhatsApp users’ contact lists with other Facebook properties when it introduces new terms and conditions soon that have caused an uproar among consumers.

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On Wednesday, the Information Regulator said Facebook may not share any contact information it collects from WhatsApp users with its other properties without first obtaining authorisation from the regulator to do so.

Earlier this year, WhatsApp informed its users around the world that it was introducing a new privacy policy that would allow it to share some metadata with Facebook. This prompted a backlash from users and a spike in downloads of competing messaging apps Signal and Telegram. As with Signal, WhatsApp chats are end-to-end encrypted by default, meaning no one, including Facebook, is able to read users’ messages. But the metadata associated with users’ accounts can still be useful in targeted advertising.

“We are reviewing a letter from the Information Regulator in South Africa, which relates to our privacy policy,” Facebook said in a statement on Thursday.

“To be clear, this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook and does not impact the privacy of your messages with friends or family wherever they are in the world,” it said.

“WhatsApp does not share your contacts with Facebook and that policy applies to users everywhere, including in South Africa,” it added. According to the WhatsApp website, the app only access the phone numbrers in users’ address books “to make messaging fast and reliable”.

“We don’t share your contacts lists with the other apps Facebook offers.”

Section 57

Reuters quoted the Information Regulator on Wednesday as saying that WhatsApp “cannot, without obtaining prior authorisation from the Information Regulator, process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at collection, with the aim of linking that information jointly with information processed by other Facebook companies”.

The regulator said its decision was in accordance with section 57 of the Protection of Personal Information Act and that it had written to Facebook South Africa to set out its concerns about the new privacy policy.

Last month, WhatsApp said it would go ahead with implementation of the new privacy policy, which would would have to be accepted by users of the app should they wish to continue using it.

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The chair of the regulator, Pansy Tlakula, said, too, that she is concerned that citizens in the European Union will receive higher privacy protection than users in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

“Our legislation is very similar to that of the EU. It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions,” she said, according to Reuters. “We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa.”

The new WhatsApp privacy policy is scheduled to come into force on 15 May.  — © 2021 NewsCentral Media

Now read: South Africa: WhatsApp may not share user data with Facebook

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