FTC Warns Facebook Not To Violate WhatsApp Users' Privacy

Apr 11, 2014 11:44 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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The billion-dollar merger where WhatsApp became part of Facebook has made privacy advocates uneasy. But maybe national regulators have their backs.

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a letter to publicly warn the social network not to violate the privacy of WhatsApp's estimated 450 million users, Forbes reported.

"Hundreds of millions of users have entrusted their personal information to WhatsApp," the FTC said in a letter to EPIC, one of the campaign groups that lodged a complaint about the takeover's implications, as reported by Forbes. "The FTC staff will continue to monitor the companies' practices to ensure that Facebook and WhatsApp honor the promises they have made to those users."

Two privacy groups have formally complained about the $19 billion deal, which the FTC has allowed to go through. Industry watchdogs have been concerned that Facebook may exploit the amount of data gathered by the messaging service, which is especially popular overseas.

In the past, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum has spoken out on the service's vigilance for user privacy. Messages are purportedly deleted from the company's servers after they're delivered, giving WhatsApp little to offer to government agencies or anyone else who wants to track users.

Essentially a free text messaging service similar to Twitter or Kik, WhatsApp has seen its users more than double in the past nine months to 450 million, a number substantially higher than Twitter's 240 million active accounts.

The app is used to send around 50 billion messages daily and allows users to message text, pictures and video.

The Facebook-WhatsApp deal, which marked the biggest startup purchase of all time, has raised questions about Facebook's plan to use the messaging service.

While farming marketing data from WhatsApp messages seems to be out of the question, Facebook may be implementing the service into Mark Zuckerberg's project to bring wireless connectivity to remote areas. WhatsApp could also be part of Facebook's plan to provide a plethora of dominant apps as the site seeks to bring in traffic in real time.

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