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Continental: We, er, tire of Whatsapp, Snapchat on work phones. GDPR, innit?

Messaging apps verboten until they fall into line with EU regs

Multinational car parts maker Continental AG has banned its employees from using Whatsapp and Snapchat on their work phones due to concerns over the recently introduced European General Data Protection Regulation.

"In the company's opinion, these services have deficiencies when it comes to data protection, as they access a user's personal and potentially confidential data such as contacts, and thus the information of third parties who are not involved. In the case of these apps, access to the contact list cannot be restricted," said Continental in a statement issued this morning.

The firm, most famous for its tyre brand, also took a swipe at "certain software and IT service providers", saying it viewed their "business practices" with "concern". This appears to be a pop at Facebook, owners of Whatsapp. That firm's chief exec, Mark Zuckerberg, recently visited the EU Parliament (having snubbed the Mother of Parliaments in the UK) to give EU lawmakers a damn good listening to.

One of the main points of the much-maligned GDPR is that people must explicitly grant permission for their personal data to be used, or processed, by others. Continental's view was that Whatsapp is trying to move this duty onto end users rather than do it itself.

"To meet the requirements of the GDPR, each user would, in the case of WhatsApp, need to get the permission of each person in their contact list in order to share their data with these services," opined Continental, adding: "This solution does not seem to be feasible and is therefore not suitable for use."

It did, however, hint that it may reverse the ban "if the providers change the basic settings to ensure that their apps comply with data-protection regulations by default".

This move seems strange on the face of it but is a symptom of the growing rift between the EU and the largely US-dominated tech services sector after the GDPR came into force in late May. A number of American news outlets have simply blocked EU readers from accessing their websites altogether rather than, as they see it, jump through the compliance hoops. Other American outlets have begun flogging "premium EU" subscriptions.

British tech lawyer Neil Brown told El Reg: "Continental may be concerned about its own compliance obligations, if it uses WhatsApp as an official company communications mechanism — for example, complying with the GDPR's notification requirements, or having a suitable contract in place with the messaging service provider."

He added, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: "Whether the ban will achieve anything beyond pushing its employees to using their personal devices for work messaging is perhaps a different matter..."

Around 36,000 devices used by Continental's worldwide workforce of 240,000 would be affected by the move, a spokesman told The Register.

Facebook declined to comment and referred us to its subsidiary. We await a response from them. Snapchat had not responded to The Register by the time of publication. ®

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