Ireland’s digital authority announced on Thursday a fine of 225 million euros (267 million dollars) to the mobile messaging company WhatsApp after an investigation requested by the European data protection committee on changes in its policy of use of personal information. The investigation, initiated by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) in December 2018, sought to determine whether the application was “meeting its transparency obligations” in terms of informing users of how their data would be used, and in particular how said data was shared with Facebook – owner of WhatsApp – and other companies in its group.
This is the largest fine issued by the DPC and the second highest imposed in the European Union after the Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection (CNPD) sanctioned Amazon last July with 746 million euros. In the statement in which the DPC communicates the fine, it also orders WhatsApp to comply with the data protection regulations of the European Union. The Irish regulator has jurisdiction in this case since Facebook has its European headquarters in this country.
The Irish commission already presented a preliminary decision on this issue to several community regulatory bodies last December in which it imposed a fine almost five times lower, of 50 million euros, but eight of those entities rejected the conclusions and asked to increase the amount. The case was to stop the European Data Protection Committee (EDPB, its acronym in English), which ordered the DPC to increase the initial fine.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in force since 2018, grants greater powers to regulators to protect consumers against digital giants such as Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter, which, attracted by a treatment favorable prosecutor, they have chosen Ireland as their headquarters. The GDPR allows regulators to fine these groups up to 4% of their global turnover.
“WhatsApp is committed to providing a safe and private service. We have worked to ensure that the information we provide is transparent and complete and we will continue to do so, “said a WhatsApp spokesperson in a brief statement. “We do not agree with today’s decision on the transparency that we provide to people in 2018 and the sanctions are totally disproportionate,” he stressed, specifying that the company will appeal this decision.
This appeal has led Max Schrems, the lawyer for the noyb law firm who has taken Apple, Google and Facebook to court to ensure that “in the Irish judicial system this will mean that we will see years before any fine is actually paid,” he explains. . “In our cases we have often had the feeling that the CPD is more concerned with headlines than actually doing the background work.”
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