WhatsApp Forced to Update Policies; Irish DPC Slapped with Corruption Allegations

privacy policies

In this weekly segment, ExchangeWire sums up key industry updates in media, marketing, and commerce from around the globe. In this edition: WhatsApp have been ordered to update privacy policies subsequent to ruling; The Irish DPC have been accused of bribery and corruption by noyb; Amazon and Apple have been fined by the AGCM for alleged anticompetitive liaison; and Tencent have been told that all their new apps and updates must be approved by the Chinese government.


WhatsApp update privacy policies subsequent to Irish ruling

WhatsApp have announced that they are updating their privacy policy to further inform users about data collection, after getting whacked by a record fine of €225m (£188.7m) for breaching EU data protection regulations. The lawsuit, handed down by the Irish Data Protection Commission, alleged that WhatsApp had failed to be transparent about sharing data with their parent company, Meta. The commission stated that they had found violations in WhatsApp’s explanation of how they “processed users’ and non-users’ data”. The fine is the second-largest in history over GDPR.

The California-based messaging platform are hoping to fight the fine issued in September, initially describing it as “entirely disproportionate”, but have agreed to comply with revamping their policies to provide data clarity.

The update, kicking in on Monday (22 November), will proceed without users having to agree or take action. WhatsApp have confirmed that the policy won’t change their service, instead adding “additional detail around our existing practices". The tweaks will only appear in the European version of the privacy policies.

The compliance comes as The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) makes a direct bid for EU legislators to implement stricter rules on targeted advertising. The EDPB is hoping for alternative advertising methods that don’t require tracking and profiling online users, commenting that “a phase-out leading to a prohibition of targeted advertising on the basis of pervasive tracking” is necessary.



The Irish DPC on the defence after being slapped with corruption allegations

DPC scrutiny
The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has come under fire, having been accused of
corruption and even bribery in a complaint filed by the non-profit organisation noyb. The organisation are alleging that the Irish commission have presented them with an ultimatum in the form of a letter: sign an “illegal” NDA within one working day or be removed from the Facebook procedure. noyb have declared this “quid pro quo” as “procedural blackmail”.

Vienna-based noyb filed the complaint to the Austrian Office for the Prosecution of Corruption. Subsequent to the filing, noyb published the letters they received, describing the request as unlawful: “only if we shut up, the DPC would 'grant' us our legal right to be heard.” The writing also shows the DPC demanding the not-for-profit to take down existing documents relating to the draft decision, once again without a legal basis. 

It has been reported that Facebook (now Meta) would significantly benefit from a signed NDA, as new documents could compel EU regulators to find their “GDPR bypass” illegal. This would result in major implications for the tech giant if regulators were to declare their use of personal data since 2018 unlawful. 

Max Schrems, chairperson of noyb.eu, comments, "the DPC acknowledges that it has a legal duty to hear us, but it now engaged in a form of 'procedural coercion'. The right to be heard was made conditional on us signing an agreement to the benefit of the DPC and Facebook. It is nothing but an authority demanding to give up the freedom of speech in exchange for procedural rights."



Italy slap Amazon and Apple with sizeable sanctions

Amazon and Apple
have been fined over €200m (£168m) collectively by the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) for alleged anti-competitive liaison, following an investigation into the sale of Apple and Beats products on Amazon’s Italian marketplace. According to reports published by the AGCM, the tech giants colluded to put a restrictive agreement in place, which was signed on the 31st October 2018. Legitimate resellers of “genuine” Beats and Apple products faced limitations when using the e-commerce platform, under the signed agreement.

Both parties have denied any wrongdoing, with the iPhone developer stating, "to ensure our customers purchase genuine products, we work closely with our reseller partners and have dedicated teams of experts around the world who work with law enforcement, customs and merchants to ensure only genuine Apple products are being sold."

The tech giants are planning to appeal to the fines, with Amazon describing the proposed amount as “disproportionate and unjustified.” "We reject the suggestion that Amazon benefits by excluding sellers from our store, since our business model relies on their success." they add.

Italy’s competition watchdog claim that the contractual clause was a breach of European Union Rules, in addition to affecting competition prices. The companies of the Amazon group face a penalty of €68.7m (£57.7m), in comparison to Apple who are bearing the brunt with a €134.5m (£112.9m) sanction.


Tencent's updates must be overlooked by Chinese government

Tencent have been told that all their new apps and updates must be
approved by the government, in a new level of babysitting prescribed by Chinese authorities. “Transitional administrative guidance measures” have been advised for the gaming and messaging platform, as 9 of the group’s apps were found to have committed “violations” this year, state media CCTV have reported. Before uploading renovations of new or existing apps, the company must request an inspection by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to receive the go-ahead. "After passing inspection, they can then be launched to users as usual," the ministry stated, according to CCTV.

China have been implementing aggressive measures to control the players in the tech industry, amidst growing  concerns that platforms are becoming too powerful. According to a report published by the Wall Street Journal, Chinese leaders believe that “data accumulated by the private sector should in essence be considered a national asset”, which can be tapped to suit the state’s needs. This motive resembles the continuous regulatory crackdown on the Chinese tech industry in recent years, meted out via  a storm of new regulations (each one pushing the authorities that bit closer to tech domination).

Tencent have told AFP that they are planning to comply with the requirements demanded, commenting, "we are continuously working to enhance user protection features within our apps, and also have regular cooperation with relevant government agencies to ensure regulatory compliance.”