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Posts Tagged ‘#whatsapp’


EU privacy proposal could dent Facebook, Gmail ad revenue

January 11, 2017

By Julia Fioretti | BRUSSELS
Online messaging services such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Gmail will face tougher rules on how they can track users under a proposal presented by the European Union executive on Tuesday which could hurt companies reliant on advertising.

The web companies would have to guarantee the confidentiality of their customers’ conversations and get their consent before tracking them online to target them with personalized advertisements.

For example, email services such as Gmail and Hotmail will not be able to scan customers’ emails to serve them with targeted advertisements without getting their explicit agreement.

Most free online services rely on advertising to fund themselves.

Spending on online advertising in 2015 was 36.4 billion euros, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).

The proposal by the European Commission extends some rules that now apply to telecom operators to web companies offering calls and messages using the internet, known as “Over-The-Top” (OTT) services, and seeks to close a perceived regulatory gap between the telecoms industry and mainly U.S. Internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

It would allow telecoms companies to use customer metadata, such as the duration and location of calls, as well as content to provide additional services and so make more money, although the telecoms lobby group ETNO said they remain more constrained than their tech competitors.

The proposal will also require web browsers to ask users upon installation whether they want to allow websites to place cookies on their browsers to deliver personalized advertisements.

A previous version of the proposal would have forced browsers to set the default settings as not allowing cookies which are the small files placed on people’s computers when they visit a website containing information about their browsing activity.

“It’s up to our people to say yes or no,” said Andrus Ansip, Commission vice-president for the digital single market.

Online advertisers say such rules would undermine many websites’ ability to fund themselves and keep offering free services.

“It will particularly hit those companies that … find it most difficult to talk directly to end users and what I mean by that is tech companies that operate in the background and sort of facilitate the buying and selling of advertising rather than the ones that the user directly engages with,” said Yves Schwarzbart, head of policy and regulatory affairs at the IAB.

“There is no doubt that it is time for the entire ecosystem to become more transparent and fair to all of the stakeholders. Users want easy access to trustworthy sources of information while feeling safe with the data they share,” Elad Natanson said.

Companies falling foul of the new law will face fines of up to 4.0 percent of their global turnover, in line with a separate data protection law set to enter into force in 2018.

The proposal will need to be approved by the European Parliament and member states before becoming law.

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Facebook Plans for WhatsApp Stumble on EU Privacy Concerns

November 30, 2016

Facebook Inc.’s stalled plans to leverage WhatsApp’s user data are about to hit another regulatory bump in Europe.

Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, who heads a panel of Europe’s privacy watchdogs, said Facebook will probably face “additional action” over using WhatsApp’s data for its own advertising purposes when the group of regulators meets next month. Facebook has stopped merging some of the messaging service’s data with its own, but not necessarily all of it, she said.

“Looking at the evidence we have, the companies have stopped merging data but possibly not for all WhatsApp services,” Falque-Pierrotin, who also heads France’s data privacy authority CNIL, said in an interview in Paris. “It’s probably a bit more complicated than that.”

Facebook already suspended its policy shift after European privacy regulators warned last month they had “serious concerns” about the sharing of WhatsApp user data for purposes that weren’t included in the terms of service and privacy policy when people signed up to the service. But Facebook’s response to the letter needs a much closer look, said Falque-Pierrotin.

The merging of WhatsApp’s data is the first step by Facebook toward monetizing the platform since the social network’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg bought the company for about $22 billion in 2014. The EU’s 28 privacy commissioners, who meet regularly as the so-called Article 29 Working Party, coordinated their actions against Facebook and in their October letter urged the Menlo Park, California-based technology giant to better explain its plans.

“We told them that such a merging of data is not necessarily welcomed,” said Falque-Pierrotin.

In a statement, Facebook said WhatsApp’s privacy policy and terms updates comply with the law, and explain clearly how the service works and choices regarding how personal data is used.

“The updates also comply with applicable law and guidelines issued by EU regulators,” said Facebook, adding that it hopes to continue conversations with European regulators and remains “open to working collaboratively to address their questions.”

Single Entry
Using WhatsApp’s data combined with its own is important to Facebook because it lets the company offer advertisers a single entry into its several platforms — in other words, improved efficiency, said EMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. But it’s also an opening into new business opportunities, because cross-analyzing data gives advertisers ammunition to better target users on each platform, she said.
“There’s always the specter of regulation when it comes to targeted advertising, privacy is always lurking in the background as a serious concern,” Williamson said. “Anything that happens on WhatsApp could trickle into the rest of Facebook as it tries to put the data from all its services into one giant data warehouse.”

The companies’ August announcement also triggered renewed questions from the EU’s antitrust watchdog, who had cleared the takeover deal two years earlier.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has warned that personal data gathered by searches and online behavior helps pay for web services that people think of as free. Antitrust regulators might see problems if a company holds data that can’t be duplicated by anyone else.

Facebook’s recent suspension of cross-platform sharing of personal data throughout the EU “might be seen as a watershed moment” in European privacy law and regulation, said David Cantor, a Brussels-based lawyer at Telecommunications Law & Strategy. “This, however, is a provisional position, which ensued in reaction to multiple national objections and expressions of concern.”


The case shows that “the only way to address these big companies” is to coordinate actions across Europe, Falque-Pierrotin said.

Since privacy regulators began collaborating in Europe, Falque-Pierrotin said she’s seen “a real change in the behavior of U.S. technology companies with the EU group and national data protection authorities.”

While European watchdogs’ fining powers remain minimal, in some cases even nonexistent, new EU-wide rules will take effect in 2018 that could boost sanctions by any of the bloc’s national regulators to as much as 4 percent of a company’s global annual sales. The rules have also killed once and for all the argument that European privacy laws don’t apply to U.S. companies, said Falque-Pierrotin.

“That argument is dead and the last word’s been said about how seriously these companies should take European privacy laws,” she said. “But this still needs patience. The stakes are extremely high for the companies and I understand that they’re fighting this with tooth and nail.”

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Why we should worry about WhatsApp accessing our personal information Elizabeth Denham

November 21, 2016

Jenny always uses Facebook carefully. She knows the company probably knows more about her than most of her friends – the location settings might show she spent time in hospital last week, for instance – but she’s careful with what she posts. Her WhatsApp is similar. Nothing too sensitive. But the app does have access to her phone contacts, so could see the number of her counsellor, and of the addiction clinic she’s been in touch with. If those two sets of data were put side by side, Jenny’s personal, private information suddenly wouldn’t seem quite so private.

That’s the worry that many could be facing as a result of Facebook’s decision to co-opt some of the data of WhatsApp customers. It’s a worry I share. I don’t think people have been given enough information about what Facebook plans to do with WhatsApp users’ data, and that’s left people concerned about how extensive the data sharing could be. And I don’t think users have been given enough control over what’s happening.

My office has asked both companies to pause what they’re doing, which they have, and we’ve asked them to commit to doing things differently, which so far they have not.

Consumers are protected by the law. The Data Protection Act requires businesses to use people’s information fairly, and in this case that means telling them what is happening. What’s more, we’re clear that WhatsApp needs to get its users’ permission to use the data in some of the ways it plans to, and the “are you happy with our new terms and conditions?” option it has taken so far doesn’t do that.

Clearly our work here is ongoing. As it stands, unless you opt out of data sharing within the first 30 days, the only option if you’re not happy is to delete your account. As a Canadian living in Cheshire who uses WhatsApp to stay in touch with my kids, I know from personal experience how impractical that is.

We all rely on digital services for important parts of our lives. But these apps create rich portraits of who we are, even when we are careful what we post, and the companies have legal responsibilities to treat that data with proper care and respect.

There’s always a concern when personal data becomes an asset to be bought and sold
Of course we could all be more careful ourselves. Most of us would benefit from a quick audit of what access we’re giving to our apps: are location settings turned on? Does it really need access to our contacts? Using the highest privacy settings when you first create a profile, then gradually adjusting them as you feel comfortable is always a good rule of thumb.

In some cases we’re happy to accept making information available. We can appreciate that to get a good service – to get a free service – we sometimes have to share our data. That’s our entry fee, and so long as it’s clear what information is being gathered, and what it’s being used for, then that’s fine.

But what about Jenny’s problem? We might be happy with the data deal we’ve agreed with one service, happy with the deal with a second, but not happy when the two services come together.

This is a growing problem. There’s a clear trend of technology companies buying up smaller services specifically to access their customers’ information. Social media companies are of particular value here. There’s always a concern when personal data becomes an asset to be bought and sold. That concern is greater still when the value of a merger is based primarily on how a company thinks they can match up customer details they’re buying with customer details they hold themselves.

Don’t let WhatsApp nudge you into sharing your data with Facebook
The difficulty with digital services is that because we’re so invested in them, we become dependent on a service that we can’t always easily extricate ourselves from. As big companies buy up their competitors, are there realistic alternative services out there? And even if I can find an alternative messaging service to WhatsApp, that only works for me if my friends and family move service too. In those situations, we need to have better protections for consumers.

And that’s just the consumer angle. Do these deals cause ripples of concern among diplomats and politicians, who are said to rely on tools like WhatsApp?

It’s a problem that overlaps data protection and competition law. We need to start thinking more about the obligations that follow personal data, and how people are being protected. If a company makes a promise, then that promise needs to be honoured, irrespective of corporate manoeuvres.

A successful digital economy is important to us all. The economy wants the jobs it brings, the companies want the profits it offers, and we all want the services that make our lives easier. But the whole building begins to crumble if the foundations aren’t secure. If people feel they are losing control of information that profiles entire aspects of their lives, that should be a very real concern.

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WhatsApp is rolling out two-factor authentication

November 11, 2016

WhatsApp users are beginning to see an option for two-factor authentication their account settings folder. According to Android Police, the feature is live in the most recent betas of the app (2.16.341 and above), and has also been spotted in the Windows Phone beta. Once activated, the app will prompt a user for a static six-digit passcode every time a new phone is registered to the account.

The new code might seem inconvenient, but it provides a crucial line of defense against criminals who might try to clone your phone, convincing a carrier to assign your phone number to their new mobile device. Without two-factor protections, all that’s required to register a WhatsApp account on a new device is a confirmation SMS message — but since that message is sent to all devices registered under your phone number, it’s trivial to break if the attacker has cloned your device.

The feature has been rumored for some time, but this the first time a functional version has been available to users. And while it’s still only in beta versions of the app, it’s only a matter of time before it makes the leap to the official release.

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WhatsApp scams: Gold, free money, spying apps and everything else you should worry about

November 4, 2016

Almost everybody uses WhatsApp. That’s what makes it so useful – but it’s also what makes it so dangerous.

As WhatsApp and other chat apps have grown, they’ve also picked up their unfair share of scams. They come in many different forms, and are often very convincing.

But the advice for steering clear and staying safe is the same as it is everywhere else on the internet, really. Just make sure that you stay vigilant and don’t fall for anything that seems too good or too worrying to be true.

Here’s some of the things you should be looking out for.

Voucher scams

This is a tale at least as old as text messages. But it’s lived on into the WhatsApp age and is showing no sign of dying.

It works like this: a message arrives in your WhatsApp from someone who looks like your friend, recommending a deal they’ve found. The deal will usually be good – a voucher for £100 off at Sainsbury’s or TopShop, for instance, usually justified by the fact that the company is changing one of its systems or something.
But it’s barely ever real. The messages usually come with a link that actually takes you to another website and tricks you into giving your personal information over.

Staying safe from these is fairly simple: don’t ever click a link you’re not sure about and certainly don’t ever hand over personal information to a website you haven’t checked.

WhatsApp ending

Other fake messages claim that WhatsApp is going to end, unless enough people share a certain message. It isn’t happening.

The messages often look convincing, claiming to come from the CEO or another official. And they’re written using the right words and phrases, looking like an official statement.

But any official statement wouldn’t need users to send it to everyone like a round robin. If WhatsApp does actually shut down, you’ll either see it in the news or it’ll come up as a proper notification in the app from the actual WhatsApp team.

Or it’s shutting down your account

This is very similar – and a similarly old trick. They will usually say something that looks like an official message that claims that people’s WhatsApp accounts are being shut down for being out of use. Sending the message on will prove that it’s actually being used and

It’s not true. This is the kind of thing that’s been going round the internet for years – and has never actually been the case.

It works very well because it feels like the kind of thing that might happen, and instructs people to share it along.

Or making you pay

This, again, is the same. The only difference is that the message supposedly exempts you from having to pay for your account. It doesn’t, because the company isn’t ever going to force people to pay (and, if it does, it’ll announce it in the normal way).

As with all of these, ignore them and don’t forward them on.

WhatsApp Gold or WhatsApp Premium

This, unlike the other scams, is specific to WhatsApp. But it’s just as wrong.

The claim suggests that people pay for or download a special version of WhatsApp, usually called Gold or Premium. It offers a range of exciting-sounding features, like the ability to send more pictures, use new emoji or add extra security features.

The problem is that it’s far from secure – and is actually entirely made up. Downloading the app infects people’s phones with malware and helps them get used for crime. And sometimes it will force people to pay for something that not only is dangerous, but certainly won’t actually help make WhatsApp any better at all.

Emails from WhatsApp

Emails are dodgy enough. Emails plus WhatsApp are even dodgier.

There’s a range of scams out there that send people emails that look like they’ve come from WhatsApp, usually looking like a notification for a missed voice call or voicemail. But when people click through, they end up getting scammed – either by being tricked into giving over their information or through other means.

Don’t ever click on an email from a questionable sender. And WhatsApp will never send you emails including information about missed calls or voicemails.

Any you do get should be ignored and send to the junk.

Fake WhatsApp spying apps

It’s just not possible to let people spy on other’s conversations on WhatsApp – or at least it shouldn’t be – because the company has end-to-end encryption enabled, which makes sure that messages can only be read by the phones that send and receive them. But the possibility of reading other people’s chats seems very exciting – so exciting that it’s being used for scams.

The apps at their best encourage people to download something that isn’t actually real. At their worst they encourage people to pay money for fake users, install malware, or actually do read your chats once they’ve got onto your phone.

You won’t be able to read anyone else’s chats, unless you actually have their phone. But the makers of spy apps might be able to read yours.

Intruders on your conversations

And this isn’t so much a hoax as a continual worry. WhatsApp is in fact a very secure platform – that’s why many of these things come as messages rather than viruses or anything else – but there are issues.
Last month, when Amnesty said that the app was the safest chat app, security experts rushed to point out that there is actually a range of security problems. Those include the fact that the company is getting increasingly trigger happy about handing data over to its users, and also that its encryption can be got around in various ways.

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