Watchdog seeks clarity on Facebook merger

The data protection watchdog is seeking an “urgent” briefing from Facebook in light of the social media company’s announcement that it plans to merge parts of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) said it will be seeking assurances from Facebook, given concerns arising from its previous plans to share data across its companies.

Last week it emerged that Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, is planning to unify the messaging infrastructure behind the individual apps into one system. While Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp will remain separate apps, each app will be reconfigured to use the same technology behind the scenes.

“We want to build the best messaging experiences we can, and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable, and private,” said a spokeswoman for Facebook.

“We’re working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and are considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks.

“As you would expect, there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work.”

However, the DPC, which has jurisdiction over Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin, says it wants clarity as to how this merger will affect the sharing of personal data across the different companies.

“While we understand that Facebook’s proposal to integrate the Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram platforms is at a very early conceptual stage of development, the Irish DPC has asked Facebook Ireland for an urgent briefing on what is being proposed,” said the DPC.

“The Irish DPC will be very closely scrutinising Facebook’s plans as they develop, particularly insofar as they involve the sharing and merging of personal data between different Facebook companies.

“Previous proposals to share data between Facebook companies have given rise to significant data protection concerns and the Irish DPC will be seeking early assurances that all such concerns will be fully taken into account by Facebook in further developing this proposal.

“It must be emphasised that ultimately the proposed integration can only occur in the EU if it is capable of meeting all of the requirements of the GDPR.”

Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014. However, last year saw both Instagram and WhatsApp’s founders leave the social network.

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