WhatsApp won't share data with Facebook in Europe... for now

Sharing data with Facebook in the UK would be illegal, the Information Commissioner tells WhatsApp.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
studioEAST / Getty Images

Messaging service WhatsApp can't legally share customer data with parent company Facebook in the UK, the local regulator said on Wednesday.

The sharing of customer information between the two companies would breach data protection law, said the UK Information Commissioner in a blog post. Fortunately for Facebook, the Commissioner didn't discover any evidence of data-sharing activities between the two services, meaning the company has just dodged a huge fine.

Wednesday's announcement was the conclusion of a year-and-a-half-long investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) into the data-sharing activities between the two companies. Commissioner Elizabeth Denham launched the investigation in 2016 when Facebook first updated its terms to inform customers that their WhatsApp data may be passed to the social network for ad-serving purposes.

In light of the commissioner's ruling and a similar ban on data sharing in France in December, Facebook agreed on Wednesday that it would not access any WhatsApp data until it could be sure its activities comply with the incoming Europe-wide General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR is a massive overhaul of data protection laws in the EU set to come into force in May, which will give individuals more rights to ask companies what data they hold on them.

"WhatsApp cares deeply about the privacy of our users. We collect very little data and every message is end-to-end encrypted," said a WhatsApp spokesman in a statement. "As we've repeatedly made clear for the last year, we are not sharing data in the ways that the UK Information Commissioner has said she is concerned about anywhere in Europe."

Denham said she believes WhatsApp agreeing not to share data "will build trust amongst their many UK users."

"I would also like to stress that signing an undertaking is not the end of story and I will closely monitor WhatsApp's adherence to it," she added.

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.

Security:  Stay up-to-date on the latest in breaches, hacks, fixes and all those cybersecurity issues that keep you up at night.