Facebook, Google face first GDPR complaints over forced consent

After two years coming down the pipe at tech giants, Europe’s new privacy framework, the General Data Protection Regulation( GDPR ), is now being applied — and long time Facebook privacy critic, Max Schrems, has wasted no time in filing four grievances relating to( certain) companies” take it or leave it’ posture when it comes to consent.

The complaints have been filed on behalf of( unnamed) individual users — with one filed against Facebook; one against Facebook-owned Instagram; one against Facebook-owned WhatsApp; and one against Google’s Android.

Schrems argues that the companies are using a strategy of” forced consent” to continue processing the individuals’ personal data — when in fact the law requires that users be given a free choice unless a consent is strictly necessary for provision of the service.( And, well, Facebook claims its core product is social networking — rather than farming people’s personal data for ad targeting .)

” It’s simple: Anything strictly necessary for a service does not require consent boxes anymore. For everything else users must have a real option to tell’ yes’ or’ no’ ,” Schrems writes in a statement.

” Facebook has even blocked accounts of users who have not given consent ,” he adds.” In the end users merely had the choice to delete the account or hit the “agree”-button — that’s not a free choice, it more reminds of a North Korean election process .”

We’ve reached out to all the companies involved for comment and will update this story with any response. Update: Facebook has now sent the following statement, attributed to its chief privacy policeman, Erin Egan:” We have prepared for the past 18 months to ensure we gratify the requirements of the GDPR. We have induced our policies clearer, our privacy decideds easier to find and introduced better tools for people to access, download, and delete their datum. Our work to improve people’s privacy doesn’t stop on May 25 th. For example, we’re building Clear History: a way for everyone to see the websites and apps that send us datum when you use them, clear this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward .”

Schrems most recently founded a not-for-profit digital rights organization to focus on strategic litigation around the bloc’s updated privacy framework, and the complaints have been filed via this crowdfunded NGO — which is called noyb( aka’ none of your business ‘).

As we pointed out in our GDPR explainer, the provision in the regulation may be required for collective enforcement of individuals’ data rights is an important one, with the health risks to strengthen the implementation of the law by enabling non-profit organisations such as noyb to file complaints on behalf of individuals — thereby helping to redress the power imbalance between corporate giants and consumer rights.

That told, the GDPR’s collective redress provision is a component that Member Country can choose to derogate from, which helps explain why the first four complaints have been filed with data protection bureaux in Austria, Belgium, France and Hamburg in Germany — regions that also have data protection agencies with a strong record of defending privacy rights.

Given that the Facebook companies involved in these complaints have their European headquarters in Ireland it’s likely the Irish data protection bureau will get involved too. And it’s fair to say that, within Europe, Ireland does not have a strong reputation as a data protection rights champion.

But the GDPR allows for DPAs in different jurisdictions to work together in instances where they have joint subjects of concern and where a service crosses perimeters — so noyb’s action seems are aiming to exam this element of the new framework too.

Under the penalty structure of GDPR, major violations of the law can attract penalties as large as 4% of a company’s global revenue which, in the case of Facebook or Google, connotes they could be on the hook for more than a billion euros apiece — if they are deemed to have violated the law, as the complaints argue.

That told, devoted how freshly fixed in place the regulation is, some EU regulators may well tread softly on the enforcement front — at least in the first instances, to give companies some benefit of the doubt and/ or a chance to make amends to come into compliance if they are deemed to be falling short of the new standards.

However, in instances where companies themselves appear to be attempting to deform the law with a willfully self-serving interpretation of the rules, regulators may feel they need to act swiftly to nip any disingenuousness in the bud.

” We likely will not immediately have billions of penalty payments, but the corporations have intentionally contravened the GDPR, so we expect a corresponding penalty under GDPR ,” writes Schrems.

Only yesterday, for example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — speaking in an on stage interview at the VivaTech conference in Paris — claimed his company hasn’t had to make any radical changes to comply with GDPR, and further claimed that a “vast majority” of Facebook users are willingly opting in to targeted advertising via its new permission flow.

” We’ve been rolling out the GDPR flows for a number of weeks now in order to make sure that we were doing this in a good way and that we could take into account everyone’s feedback before the May 25 deadline. And one of the things that I’ve found interesting is that the great majority of people choose to opt in to make it so that we can use the data from other apps and websites that they’re using to make ads better. Because the reality is if you’re willing to see ads in a service you want them to be relevant and good ads ,” said Zuckerberg.

He did not mention that the dominant social network does not offer people a free choice on accepting or declining targeted advertising. The new permission flow Facebook uncovered ahead of GDPR only offers the’ choice’ of ceasing Facebook solely if a person does not want to accept targeting advertising. Which, well, isn’t much of a option dedicated how powerful the network is.( Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Facebook continues tracking non-users — so even deleting a Facebook account does not guarantee that Facebook will stop processing your personal data .)

Asked about how Facebook’s business model will be affected by the new rules, Zuckerberg essentially claimed nothing significant will change –” because dedicating people control of how their data is employed has been a core principle of Facebook since the beginning “.

” The GDPR adds some new controls and then there’s some areas that we need to comply with but overall it isn’t such a massive departure from how we’ve approached this in the past ,” he claimed.” I mean I don’t want to downplay it — there are strong new rules that we’ve needed to set a bunch of work into making sure that we complied with — but as a whole the philosophy behind this is not completely different from how we’ve approached things.

” In order to be able to give people the tools to connect in all the ways they want and build community a lot of doctrine that is encoded in a regulation like GDPR is really how we’ve was just thinking about all this stuff for a long time. So I don’t want to understate the areas where there are new rules that we’ve had to go and enforce but I also don’t want to make it seem like this is a massive deviation in how we’ve was just thinking about this stuff .”

Zuckerberg faced a range of tough questions on these points from the EU parliament earlier this week. But he avoided answering them in any meaningful detail.

So EU regulators are essentially facing a first exam of their mettle — i.e. whether they are willing to step up and defend the line of the law against big tech’s attempts to reshape it in their business model’s image.

Privacy statutes are nothing new in Europe but robust enforcement of them would certainly be a breath of fresh air. And now at the least, thanks to GDPR, there’s a penalties structure in place to provide incentives as well as teeth, and spin up a market around strategic litigation — with Schrems and noyb in the vanguard.

Schrems also stimulates the point that small startups and local companies are less likely to be able to use the kind of strong-arm’ take it or leave it’ tactics on users that big tech is able to unilaterally apply and extract’ consent’ as a consequence of the reach and power of their platforms — arguing there’s an underlying competition concern that GDPR has the potential to help to redress.

” The fight against forced consent ensures that the corporations cannot force users to consent ,” he writes.” This is especially important so that monopolies have no advantage over small and medium-sized companies .”

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WhatsApps stories hit 450M users, stealing the globe from Snapchat

Snapchat forgot the international market in its early years, and now WhatsApp has snatched that growth opportunity. WhatsApp’s clone of Snapchat Stories, WhatsApp Status , now has 450 million daily active users. That’s compared to only 191 million daily users on all of Snapchat as of today’s disastrous Q1 Snap Inc earnings bellow . Theupdate from today’s F8 meeting comes after Facebook told WhatsApp Status and Instagram Stories had 300 million daily users as of November.

WhatsApp is getting stickers

Group video calling is coming to WhatsApp

Rather than rest on its laurels, WhatsApp only announced stickers and Group Video calling to stimulate the lean communications utility more fun. Users already spend 2 billion minutes per day on WhatsApp video and audio calls. But in the coming months, they’ll be able to have at least four people on a single split-screen video bellow, and possibly more. And rather than just chat with text, in the coming months you’ll be able to send stickers inside WhatsApp. Third-party sticker packs will also be available, so developers can contribute illustrations to help people chat visually.

Meanwhile, on the serious side, WhatsApp is inching toward monetization. It now has 3 million companies on its new WhatsApp For Business app. While it’s a free product currently, WhatsApp has said it plans to charge big brands like airlines, banks and mobile carriers for bonus features that will help them do commerce and customer support on the app. With strong traction already, it seems like Facebook will be able to squeezing a solid new revenue stream out of Facebook when it’s ready.

With all the talk of election interference on Facebook and Instagram, WhatsApp was the company’s feel-good story for today’s F8 conference. The division’s director Mubarik Imam said that if she could work for any company for free, she would have picked WhatsApp. Facebook needs as much positive PR as it can get right now amidst all its scandals, and WhatsApp might be its ticket.

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WhatsApp revamps Groups to fight Telegram

Facebook merely installed its VP of Internet.org as the new head of WhatsApp after its CEO Jan Koum left the company. And now Facebook is expanding its mission to get people into “meaningful” groups to WhatsApp. Today, WhatsApp launched a slew of new features for Groups on iOS and Android that let admins set a description for their community and choose who can change the Groups sets. Meanwhile, users will be able to get a Group catch up that proves messages they were mentioned in, and search for people in the group.

WhatsApp’s new Group descriptions

WhatsApp Group participant search

Group improvements will help WhatsApp better compete with Telegram, which has recently emerged as an insanely popular platform for chat groups, especially around cryptocurrency. Telegram has plenty of admin controls of its own, but the two apps is likely to be vying over who can make it easiest to digest these fast-moving chats forums.

” These are features are based on user petitions. We develop the product based on what our users want and require” a WhatsApp spokesperson told me when asked why it’s making this update.” There are also people coming together in groups on WhatsApp like new parents go looking for support, students coordinating study sessions, and even city leaders coordinating relief efforts after natural disasters .”

Facebook is on a quest to get 1 billion users into “meaningful” Groups and lately said it now has hit the 200 million user milestone. Groups could help people strengthen their ties with their city or niche interests, who are capable of make them feel less alone.

With Group descriptions, admins can explain the purpose and rules of a group. They show up when people check out the group and appear atop the chat window when they join. New admin controls let them limit who is allowed to alter a group’s topic, icon, and description. WhatsApp is also inducing it tougher to re-add somebody to a group they left so you can’t” Group-add-spam people “. Together, they are able make sure people find relevant groups, naturally acclimate to their culture, and don’t troll everyone.

As for users, the new Group catch up feature offers a new@ button in the bottom right of the chat window that when tapped, surfaces all your answers and mentions since you last checked. And if you want to find person specific in the Group, the new participant search on the Info page could let you turn a group chat into a private convo with someone you meet.

WhatsApp Group catch up

Now that WhatsApp has a stunning 1.5 billion users compared to 200 million on Telegram, its next stage of growth may come from deepening engagement instead of simply adding more accounts. Many people already do most of their one-on-one chatting with friends on WhatsApp, but Groups could invite tons of the amount of time spent as users participate in communities of strangers around their interests.

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Facebook undergoes a huge executive reshuffle

Facebook is undergoing one of the biggest executive reshuffles in its history, the company announced internally today, Recode reports. Mark Zuckerberg is still the king of the castle, but everything below him is taking a different shape as WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook’s core app get new leaders.

Facebook has confirmed these changes to TechCrunch.

The company has been reorganized into three main groups:” Family of Apps ,” which encompasses Instagram, Facebook’s core app, Messenger and WhatsApp;” New Platforms and Infrastructure ,” which cover AI, AR/ VR, blockchain and engineering squads; and” Central Product Services ,” which will handle ads, analytics and product management teams.

The biggest moves?

Exec Chris Cox appears to be taking the biggest power move here as he will result the new Family of Apps group.

David Marcus will notably be stepping down from his role as head of Messenger to lead an exploratory blockchain group under CTO Mike Schroepfer with Instagram’s Kevin Weil.

Chris Daniels of Facebook’s Internet.org will be taking over WhatsApp after CEO Jan Koum announced he was leaving last week.

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quits Facebook due to privacy intrusions

” It is time for me to move on . . . I’m taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my autoes and playing ultimate frisbee ,” WhatsApp co-founder, CEO and Facebook board member Jan Koum wrote today. The announcement followed soon after The Washington Postreported that Koum would leave due to disagreements with Facebook management about WhatsApp user data privacy and weakened encryption. Koum obscured that motive in his note that tells,” I’ll still be cheering WhatsApp on- only from the outside .”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promptly commented on Koum’s Facebook post about his deviation, writing” Jan: I will miss running so closely with you. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done to help connect the world, and for everything you’ve teach me, including about encryption and its ability to take power from centralized systems and set it back in people’s hands. Those values will always be at the heart of WhatsApp .” That remark further tries to downplay the idea that Facebook pushed Koum away by trying to erode encryption.

The move goes 3.5 years after WhatsApp’s acquisition, entailing Koum may have vested much of his stock and have fewer financial incentives to bide. It’s currently unclear what will happen to Koum’s Facebook board seat that WashPo says he’ll vacate, or who will replace him as WhatsApp’s CEO.

One possible nominee for the CEO role would be WhatsApp business executive Neeraj Arora, a former Google corporate developing manager who’s been with WhatsApp since 2011 — well before the Facebook acquisition. A source described him as the# 4 at WhatsApp.

Values misaligned

Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for a jaw-dropping $19 billion. But since then it’s more than tripled its user count to 1.5 billion, inducing the price to turn messaging into a one-horse race seem like a steal. But at the time, Koum and co-founder Brian Acton were assured that WhatsApp wouldn’t have to run ads or merge its data with Facebook’s. So were regulators in Europe, where WhatsApp is most popular.

A year and a half later, though, Facebook pressured WhatsApp to change its terms of service and give users’ phone numbers to its parent company. That let Facebook target those users with more precise ad, such as by letting business upload lists of phone numbers to hit those people with promotions. Facebook was eventually penalty $122 million by the European Union in 2017 — a paltry sum for a company earning more than$ 4 billion in profit per quarter.

But the perceived invasion of WhatsApp user privacy drove a wedge between Koum and the mother company well before the Cambridge Analytica scandal transgressed. A source confirms that Koum had been considering leaving for a year. Acton left Facebook in November, and has publicly supported the #DeleteFacebook movement since.

WashPo writes that Koum was also angered by Facebook executives pushing for a weakening of WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption in order to facilitate its new WhatsApp For Business program. It’s possible that letting multiple squad member states of a business all interact with its WhatsApp account could be incompatible with strong encryption. Facebook plans to finally make money off WhatsApp by offering bonus services to big companies like airlines, e-commerce sites and banks that want to conduct commerce over the chat app.

Jan Koum( Photo: TOBIAS HASE/ AFP/ Getty Images)

Koum was heavily critical of advertising in apps, once telling Forbes that” Dealing with ads is depressing . . . You don’t make anyone’s life better by making advertisements work better .” He vowed to keep them out of WhatsApp. But over the past year, Facebook has rolled out display ads in the Messenger inbox. Without Koum around, Facebook might push to expand those obtrusive ads to WhatsApp as well.

The high-profile departure arrives at a vulnerable day for Facebook, with its big F8 developer conference starting tomorrow despite Facebook simultaneously shutting down parts of its dev platform as penance for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Meanwhile, Google is trying to fix its fragmented messaging strategy, trenching apps like Allo to focus on a mobile carrier-backed alternative to SMS it’s building into Android Messages.

While the News Feed constructed Facebook rich, it also made it the villain. Messaging has become its strongest suit thanks to the dual dominance of Messenger and WhatsApp. Considering many users surely don’t even realize WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, Koum’s departure over policy fears isn’t likely to change that. But it’s one more phase in what’s becoming a thick line connecting Facebook’s business aspirations to its cavalier approach to privacy.

You can read Koum’s full post below .

It’s been almost a decade since Brian and I started WhatsApp, and it’s been an astounding journey with some of the best…

Posted by Jan Koum on Monday, April 30, 2018

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