- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Facebook was told Tuesday to delete the records of millions of German citizens whose information was shared with the social network in violation of national privacy laws.

An administrative order issued by Hamburg’s commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Johannes Caspar, said Facebook must immediately stop collecting and storing the personal information of Germans who use WhatsApp, a messaging client acquired by the Menlo Park, California-based company for $19 billion in 2014.

Despite previously promising differently, WhatsApp said last month that it would share the phone numbers and other analytics of its 1 billion users with Facebook.

Mr. Caspar said the change of course “is not only misleading of their users and the public, but also constitutes an infringement of national data protection laws.”

Under German law, a data exchange such as the one revealed last month by Facebook is only allowed if both companies involved have established a legal basis for doing so. The Federation of German Consumer Organisations threatened legal action against WhatsApp earlier this month, but Tuesday’s administrative order squarely tells Facebook to cease the practice immediately.

None of WhatsApp’s roughly 35 million German customers were asked if they wanted their personal information provided to Facebook, the commissioner said.

“It has to be their decision, whether they want to connect their account with Facebook. Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened,” wrote the regulator.

Facebook said in a statement it will appeal the order, and that it complies with data protection laws in the European Union but will work with Germany authorities “in an effort to address their questions and resolve any concerns.”

Stateside, meanwhile, privacy advocates in the Unites States have raised concerns as well as a result of the companies’ data exchange. A group including more than a dozen U.S. consumer organizations urged the Federal Trade Commission last week to take up a complaint filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy, two D.C.-based organizations which say the data exchange amounts to being an unfair and deceptive trade practice in violation of FTC rules and regulations.

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