Facebook "pauses" WhatsApp data collection in the UK.

WhatsApp announced back in August that it would start sharing data with Facebook to "better fight spam on WhatsApp" and offer "better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads" on Facebook. Although the service offered a 30-day window to let users opt out of sharing data with the social network, it mentioned that it would collect anonymous information to help Facebook tackle spam and abuse.

As expected, the announcement drew a lot of ire from customers as well as government regulators, including the UK's Information Commissioner's Office. After an eight-week probe into the company's privacy policy, the information commissioner has found that WhatsApp didn't get "valid consent" from its users when it comes to sharing data with Facebook. The watchdog's intervention has led to Facebook agreeing to "pause" data collection from WhatsApp users in the UK:

I don't think users have been given enough information about what Facebook plans to do with their information, and I don't think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information. I also believe users should be given ongoing control over how their information is used, not just a 30 day window.

We've set out the law clearly to Facebook, and we're pleased that they've agreed to pause using data from UK WhatsApp users for advertisements or product improvement purposes.

We have now asked Facebook and WhatsApp to sign an undertaking committing to better explaining to customers how their data will be used, and to giving users ongoing control over that information. We also want individuals to have the opportunity to be given an unambiguous choice before Facebook start using that information and to be given the opportunity to change that decision at any point in the future.

We think consumers deserve a greater level of information and protection, but so far Facebook and WhatsApp haven't agreed. If Facebook starts using the data without valid consent, it may face enforcement action from my office.

The result could have a cascading effect in other regions as well, with 28 data protection authorities in the EU requesting WhatsApp to stop sharing data with Facebook. For its part, the social network is working with local regulators:

WhatsApp designed its privacy policy and terms update to give users a clear and simple explanation of how the service works, as well as choice over how their data is used. These updates comply with applicable law, and follow the latest guidance from the UK Information Commissioner's Office.

We hope to continue our detailed conversations with the ICO and other data protection officials, and we remain open to working collaboratively to address their questions.