South Africa's Information Regulator Opposes WhatsApp-Facebook Data-Sharing New Policy

South Africa's Information Regulator (IR) has kicked against WhatsApp's planned data to share with Facebook, vowing to engage with the popular messaging service to ensure it complies with national privacy laws. 

Early this year, WhatsApp sparked global outrage when it asked users to accept new terms that allowed it to share private information with parent company Facebook, for advertising and e-commerce purposes.

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This forced millions of users to abandon the platform and switch to Telegram and Signal which are all rival messaging platforms. As a result, WhatsApp was forced to delay its plans to March 15, as it used its time to clarify its privacy and security terms.

Initially, most WhatsApp users didn't like the data sharing proposition but would have eventually accepted it anyway. However, users were angered when WhatsApp announced that European Union (EU) users would not be forced to agree to share personal information with Facebook.

Meanwhile, users not living in the European Union have been told to accept the new terms or that they would be cut off from the service come May 15, and their accounts will eventually be deleted as a result of inactivity.

According to Reuters, South Africa's Information Regulator on Wednesday last week said the new privacy policy violated the country's Protection of Personal Information Act.

"WhatsApp cannot without obtaining prior authorisation from IR process any contact information of its users for a purpose other than the one for which the number was specifically intended at the collection, with the aim of linking that information jointly with information processed by other Facebook companies," the regulator said in a statement.

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The regular said its decision was in accordance with section 57 of the Protection of Personal Information Act, South Africa's data protection law, expressing concern that citizens of the European Union will receive significantly higher privacy protection than users in South Africa and Africa generally.

"Our legislation is very similar to that of the EU," Chairperson of the IR Pansy Tlakula said. "It was based on that model deliberately, as it provides a significantly better model for the protection of personal information than that in other jurisdictions."

"We do not understand why Facebook has adopted this differentiation between Europe and Africa," She added.

The IR said it had invited Facebook to "a round-table discussion regarding the issues raised" to ensure full compliance with the new terms with South African law.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said the company was reviewing the regulator's letter, adding that the update does not expand the company's ability to share data with Facebook, nor does it impact the privacy of users' messages with friends or family.

"WhatsApp does not share your contacts with Facebook and that policy applies to users everywhere, including South Africa," the spokesperson said.

South Africa isn't the only country scrutinizing WhatsApp's new terms. Turkey's competition board has launched an investigation while a legal challenge filed in India has been launched.

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