WhatsApp fined NZ$376 million for breaching EU's privacy regulations

The EU's regulations allow a company to be fined up to four percent of global turnover.
The EU's regulations allow a company to be fined up to four percent of global turnover. Photo credit: Getty Images

Facebook's messaging and calling platform WhatsApp has been fined NZ$376 million by the Irish data watchdog for a breach of privacy regulations.

The ruling has been called "entirely disproportionate" by WhatsApp, which has announced it will appeal.

The multi-million dollar fine relates to a 2018 investigation into how user data was processed as well as the clarity of the platform's privacy policies.

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) allows companies operating in the EU to be fined up to four percent of its global turnover for failing in its legal obligations. 

Facebook's European headquarters is in Ireland and the country's Data Privacy Commissioner (DPC) is the lead for data privacy within the EU.

Initially Ireland had only wanted to fine WhatsApp between NZ$50 million to N$84million, but some countries disagreed when its decision was submitted to the other EU data authorities, as required.

Ultimately the European Data Protection Board told the Irish DPC to reassess and amend its decision, ordering a higher fine on WhatsApp. 

"We disagree with the decision today regarding the transparency we provided to people in 2018 and the penalties are entirely disproportionate," a WhatsApp spokesperson said.

"WhatsApp is committed to providing a secure and private service. We have worked to ensure the information we provide is transparent and comprehensive and will continue to do so."

The Irish DPC had 14 major inquiries into Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram open as of the end of 2021, according to Reuters.

The entire process shows the DPC is still extremely dysfunctional, privacy campaigner Max Schrems told the BBC.

"The DPC gets about 10,000 complaints per year since 2018 - and this is the first major fine," he said.

And it's unlikely that the company will have to fork out the money any time soon.

Because of WhatsApp's planned appeal in the Irish courts, "this will mean that we will see years before any fine is actually paid", Schrems said. 

The amount, while large, is still dwarfed by the mammoth NZ$1.25 billion Amazon was fined in July by Luxembourg's regulator for data-processing non-compliance.