Instant messaging app WhatsApp has reached an agreement with the European Union to be more transparent and respectful with consumers when making changes to its terms and conditions.
In a press release published by the European Commission (EC), the executive branch of the economic bloc stated that the application will make it easier for users to understand and reject any updates to the terms of the service.
The app will also clarify if such rejection will prevent users from further enjoying its services.
WhatsApp and Meta Say That Users’ Data is Not Being Monetized
WhatsApp and its parent company, Meta Platforms (META), have clarified that it does share the personal data of its users with third parties or other applications owned by its parent, for commercial purposes.
“I welcome WhatsApp’s commitments to changing its practices to comply with EU rules, actively informing users of any changes to their contract, and respecting their choices instead of asking them each time they open the app”, commented the EC’s Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders.
“Consumers have a right to understand what they agree to and what that choice entails concretely, so that they can decide whether they want to continue using the platform.”
The WhatsApp case also prompted the Commission to further study so-called “dark patterns” used by applications and software companies.
Deceptive and potentially harmful terms and conditions have been placed in lengthy and overly wordy documents, which consumers don’t usually take the time to read – either because they are too long or too technical.
Multiple European Consumer Protection Agencies Fought WhatsApp’s Practices
The agreement comes more than twenty months after The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) filed a formal complaint with the EC along with eight other consumer-protection agencies to denounce some of WhatsApp’s practices that allegedly violated consumer rights.
Some changes the company made to its Terms of Service (ToS) granted the app the right to share some of its users’ personal data with Facebook including their phone numbers and addresses.
The incident led to a surge in downloads and usage for some of WhatsApp’s top rivals – including Telegram and Signal – as users were unhappy with both the communication and its intended scope.
At that time, BEUC argued that WhatsApp’s language could be considered “opaque” and that the app “failed to explain in plain and intelligible language the nature of the changes” – the application used constant push notifications to prompt users to agree to these changes.
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Regulators were concerned that these tactics endangered consumer rights as they could feel pressured to opt-in.
Users may have agreed to the new terms without clearly understanding the impact the changes would have on the privacy of their personal data.
WhatsApp threatened to shut down users’ accounts and delete all of their messages if they failed to agree to the new terms.
They also used “deliberately vague” language to mask the most relevant changes made to the ToS, the agency argued.
In January this year, WhatsApp was slapped with a $5.9 million fine from Ireland’s Data Private Commissioner for engaging in similar high-pressure-selling practices.
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