Turkey opens investigation into new WhatsApp privacy changes

Turkey’s competition authority has opened an investigation into WhatsApp in connection with a new update that requires users to share more data with Facebook, its parent company.

The popular messaging platform has come under fire for asking its users to accept the new terms or, if not, risk losing access to their accounts as of February 8.

Facebook hopes to monetize WhatsApp by allowing advertisers to contact customers directly through the application. The new terms will only affect users with company accounts in the United Kingdom or the European Union, as confirmed by Facebook.

But outside of Europe, users must agree to share the information of their mobile phone, Internet service provider, with Facebook affiliates. This data could also be your contact and profile information, with the exception of the message content, which remains encrypted.

A spokesperson for the tech giant stated that privacy policy updates are “industry standard” and that the company is providing users with all necessary information.

Turkey calls it “unacceptable”

However, in Turkey, authorities confirmed they were investigating Facebook and WhatsApp on the policy, and have called for the new terms to be “suspended” pending their findings.

Several government ministers have also urged citizens to use other locally developed messaging apps in favor of WhatsApp, such as BiP from mobile operator Turkcell.

The head of Turkey’s Digital Transformation Office, Ali Taha Koc, said that foreign applications pose serious security risks.

“The distinction between EU members and other countries in terms of data privacy is unacceptable,” Koc wrote on Saturday.

“We have to protect our digital data with our local applications.”

On Sunday, BiP said that two million new users had downloaded its app in the last 48 hours since the WhatsApp update became visible to users.

Rival messaging apps Signal and Telegram have also seen a sudden surge in demand.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently targeted social media companies with new restrictions and fines, forcing them to establish a presence in the country and to obey court orders to remove “offensive” content.

Critics say the laws have stifled opposition voices online in Turkey, after the government had previously tightened its grip on major social media.

Why do the new terms differ for Europe?

Facebook, like other big tech companies, has faced months of criticism from Europe and the United States for its behavior on competition and privacy conditions.

The new version of WhatsApp’s privacy policy for European users establishes that data can be shared with other Facebook companies to display personalized advertising and offers.

However, Facebook has confirmed that it will only be used to develop the new functionalities offered to WhatsApp Business accounts. Regular users in Europe will not see any change in the privacy conditions of their data, although they will have to accept the conditions to continue using the messaging application.

Facebook claims that it does not use WhatsApp information for direct advertising purposes in Europe due to prior negotiations with European data protection bodies.

The exemption has been welcomed by representatives of the bloc as a victory for EU privacy regulators.

When asked further on the matter, a spokesperson for the European Commission noted that Facebook was fined 110 million euros in 2017 for providing inaccurate information during an investigation into its acquisition of WhatsApp.