Uncovering the Consequences: A Closer Look at WhatsApp's €5.5 Million Fine for Data Protection Violations

Uncovering the Consequences: A Closer Look at WhatsApp's €5.5 Million Fine for Data Protection Violations

  Are you a WhatsApp user? You may want to pay attention to this. Recently, WhatsApp was hit with a €5.5 million fine for breaking data protection laws. But what exactly did they do wrong, and what does this mean for the future of data privacy? Continue reading to learn more.


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a data privacy law that went into effect in the European Union (EU) in May 2018. It replaces the EU Data Protection Directive (DPD) and establishes new rules for how organizations process and protect the personal data of EU citizens. The GDPR applies to any organization, regardless of location, that processes the personal data of EU citizens. It includes provisions for individuals' rights, such as the right to access, rectify, and erase personal data, as well as obligations for organizations, such as the need for explicit consent for data processing and the appointment of a data protection officer. Organizations that violate the GDPR can face significant fines.

Image Courtesy: Entegy


  Data privacy and security have become significant concerns for organizations in today's digital age. With increasing personal information being shared online, companies must adhere to strict data protection laws to ensure that users' sensitive information is kept safe. Unfortunately, not all companies follow these laws, and a recent fine levied on WhatsApp serves as a reminder of the consequences of failing to protect users' data.

  Let's explore in detail why WhatsApp was fined €5.5 Million, What laws the same violated, and what measures one can take to ensure data privacy and security.

Quick History

WhatsApp is a messaging application founded in 2009 by Brian Acton and Jan Koum, two former Yahoo! employees. The application allows users to send text messages, make voice and video calls, share photos and videos, and send documents to other WhatsApp users. It was initially launched as a simple messaging application, but over time it has evolved to include features such as end-to-end encryption, group chats, and status updates.

  In 2014, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion, which helped to accelerate its growth and expansion. Today, WhatsApp is one of the world's most widely used messaging applications, with over 2 billion monthly active users. It has become a popular tool for communication among friends and family and for businesses to connect with customers.

WhatsApp has also played a significant role in social media, allowing users to share information, news, and updates with a large group of people. This has led to its use in various ways, from organizing social and political movements to spreading fake news. It's also been a vital tool for communication during pandemics and crises, making it an essential tool in the digital age.

Brian Acton and Jim Koum

Data Protection & its importance

  Data protection safeguards personal information from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, alteration, or destruction. It encompasses a set of laws, regulations, and policies that aim to protect individual's rights to privacy and control over their data.

  In today's digital landscape, personal information is being collected and shared at an unprecedented rate. With the increasing reliance on technology and the internet in every aspect of life, personal data is increasingly being used for commercial and other purposes. This has led to an unprecedented need for data protection to ensure that individuals' personal information is not misused, mishandled, or stolen.

  Data protection is essential for several reasons. Firstly, it helps to protect individuals from identity theft, fraud, and other forms of financial loss. Secondly, it helps to protect individuals from discrimination, harassment, and other forms of harm. Thirdly, it helps to protect the reputation and credibility of organizations that handle personal data.

  Data protection is also essential for companies as it helps them comply with legal and regulatory requirements such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other related laws. It also helps them to mitigate the risk of data breaches and other cybersecurity incidents, which can have severe financial and reputational consequences.


  So, what did WhatsApp violate? In the case of WhatsApp, the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA) found that the company broke several specific data protection laws.

  Firstly, they failed to obtain valid consent from users before sharing their phone numbers with Facebook. This violates GDPR's principle of "consent," which states that personal data can only be processed if the data subject has given explicit, informed, and freely given consent.

  Secondly, WhatsApp did not provide users with clear and comprehensive information about its data-sharing practices, which violates GDPR's principle of "transparency," which requires organizations to inform individuals about the collection and use of their data in a concise, easily accessible and easy-to-understand format.

  The DPA also found that WhatsApp did not allow users to opt out of sharing their data with Facebook, which is a violation of GDPR's principle of "control," which gives individuals the right to object to the processing of their data in certain circumstances.

  If WhatsApp shares phone numbers with Facebook, it could violate user privacy. Users may not have been aware or given explicit consent for their phone numbers to be shared with Facebook, which could infringe data protection laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Additionally, sharing phone numbers with Facebook could lead to targeted advertising and increased data collection, which may infringe on users' rights to control their personal information.

  Furthermore, with access to phone numbers, bad actors can potentially use this information to commit identity theft or other types of fraud. This highlights the importance of data protection and the need for companies to be transparent about their data-sharing practices.


  The €5.5 million fine imposed on WhatsApp by the Italian Data Protection Authority (DPA) is one of the largest ever handed out for a data protection violation. The amount of the fine is based on several factors, including the severity of the violation, the number of individuals affected, and the company's financial resources.

  In this case, WhatsApp was found to have violated several specific data protection laws (discussed above), including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Italian Data Protection Code. The fine also dwarfs the previous record of €1.5 million imposed on Google in January 2019 for failing to provide users with clear and comprehensive information about data processing activities.


  Individuals and organizations shall take the following steps to protect their data and ensure compliance with laws.

  1. Be transparent about data collection and usage: Organizations should be upfront about what data they collect, how they manage it, and how they plan to use it. This includes providing clear and comprehensive information in privacy policies and terms of service agreements.

  2. Obtain valid consent: Organizations should obtain explicit and informed consent from individuals before collecting, using, or sharing their data. This includes giving individuals the right to opt out of data sharing.

  3. Implement robust security measures: Organizations should implement appropriate technical and organizational measures to protect personal data from unauthorized access, alteration, or destruction. This includes implementing encryption, firewalls, and regular security audits.

  4. Regularly review and update data protection policies: Organizations should periodically review and update their data protection policies and procedures to ensure they align with current laws and regulations.

  5. Educate employees and users about data protection: Organizations should educate them about data protection laws and best practices to help them understand their rights and responsibilities.

  Individuals can also protect their data by being aware of the privacy policies and terms of service of the apps and websites they use, being cautious about the information they share online, and using strong passwords and two-factor authentication.


  In conclusion, the violation of data protection laws by WhatsApp highlights the need for individuals and organizations to be vigilant in protecting their data and ensuring compliance with regulations. It also warns other companies in the tech industry to be mindful of their data collection and sharing practices. As technology advances and personal data becomes increasingly valuable, we must take the necessary steps to safeguard our information and hold companies accountable for any breaches of data protection laws.