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  • Writer's pictureConnie Chan

WhatsApp Reaches Agreement with the EU to Be More Transparent with Consumers

WhatsApp, the instant messaging app owned by Meta Platforms, has reached an agreement with the European Union to be more transparent and respectful with consumers whenever it decides to make changes to the terms and conditions of its service.

In a press release published this morning 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 that they may disagree with.

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.

He added: “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 these so-called “dark patterns” used by applications and software companies to slip deceptive and potentially harmful terms and conditions in lengthy and overly wordy documents that consumers don’t usually take the time to read either because they are too long or too technical to be easily understood.

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 from countries including Norway, Romania, and Greece to denounce some of WhatsApp’s practices that allegedly violated consumer rights.

“For several months now, WhatsApp has been unduly pressuring its users to accept its new terms of use and privacy policy. Yet these terms are neither transparent nor comprehensible for users”, the agency complained, referring to some changes that the company made to its Terms of Service (ToS) that 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 discontent with both the way the ToS update was communicated and its intended scope and reach.

Back then, 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”. Back then, the application used constant push notifications to prompt users to agree to these changes.

Regulators were concerned that these tactics endangered consumer rights as they could feel pressured to opt in without clearly understanding the impact that agreeing to these 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 and 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 to get consumers to agree to changes made to the app’s ToS without giving them enough time to read through the fine print.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.


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