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Irish Data Protection Commission asks Facebook for briefing on merger plans



A key European data protection watchdog is demanding answers from Facebook over its plans to partially merge Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.

The Irish Data Protection Commission, which is responsible for regulating Facebook across the EU, has asked Facebook for an “urgent briefing” on the proposals, it said in a statement released on Monday.

Last week, The New York Times reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to combine the back-ends of its three most popular messaging services. They would still exist as three separate apps, but it would mean a user on one app could message someone on one of the others — something that isn’t currently possible.

Facebook subsequently confirmed the news, saying in a statement that “we’re working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks.”

The Irish Data Protection Commission’s request is indicative of the intense regulatory scrutiny that is likely to accompany Facebook’s plans, which will be one of the company’s most ambitious restructuring of its family of apps in years.

Some US lawmakers have also already raised questions about the plan, with Democratic California congressman Ro Khanna suggesting it prompts serious anti-trust concerns, and Democratic senator Ron Wyden raising questions about user privacy and data protection.

Reached for comment, Facebook spokesperson Sally Aldous referred Business Insider to the company’s earlier statement on the merger: “We want to build the best messaging experiences we can; and people want messaging to be fast, simple, reliable and private. We’re working on making more of our messaging products end-to-end encrypted and considering ways to make it easier to reach friends and family across networks. As you would expect, there is a lot of discussion and debate as we begin the long process of figuring out all the details of how this will work.”

“While we understand that Facebook’s proposal to integrate the Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram platforms is at a very early conceptual stage of development, the Irish DPC has asked Facebook Ireland for an urgent briefing on what is being proposed. The Irish DPC will be very closely scrutinizing Facebook’s plans as they develop, particularly insofar as they involve the sharing and merging of personal data between different Facebook companies. Previous proposals to share data between Facebook companies have given rise to significant data protection concerns and the Irish DPC will be seeking early assurances that all such concerns will be fully taken into account by Facebook in further developing this proposal. It must be emphasised that ultimately the proposed integration can only occur in the EU if it is capable of meeting all of the requirements of the GDPR.”

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