Lawsuit - Google allegedly read WhatsApp chats

According to a Lawsuit (PDF), filed by the US state of Texas along with ten other states, alleges that Google entered into an agreement with Facebook that gave the search engine company access to WhatsApp users' data. The lawsuit states that Google "repeatedly and brazenly violated antitrust and consumer protection laws."

"This internet goliath used his power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm YOU, the consumer."

Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General.

In addition to the current lawsuit, which is supported by the states of Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North and South Dakota and Utah, the state attorneys general of almost all US states have already filed a lawsuit in October 2020, in which Google is accused of abuse of market power. The main issue is the search preferences of the Android mobile operating system.

Exclusive cooperation between Google and Facebook

In the current lawsuit, Google is accused of entering into an exclusive cooperation with Facebook with the aim of maintaining the group's quasi-monopoly. To this end, according to the statement of claim (page 57), Google allegedly entered into an agreement back in 2015, shortly after WhatsApp was bought by Facebook, which gave the group "access to millions of end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp messages, photos, videos and audio files of Americans."

Whether this accusation is actually true must be clarified in the ongoing proceedings. To this end, the courts are evaluating, among other things, numerous internal company documents, some of which, however, have been blacked out in the published lawsuit.

"Google's internal documents give the lie to the public image of smart Google engineers having fun at their sunny Mountain View campus while trying to make the world a better place."

Paxton

However, it is not technically possible for Google to access the end-to-end encrypted communication. It is therefore very likely that the agreement only allowed Google to access WhatsApp data until April 2016, because no encryption existed before that date. Furthermore, it would be possible that Google is still evaluating backups of WhatsApp users because they are stored unencrypted.

Manipulation in online advertising

In addition to the accusation of data misuse, Google is also accused in the lawsuit of manipulating online advertising. Specifically, this concerns so-called header bidding, in which website operators can offer their advertising space in parallel on different advertising marketplaces.

According to the lawsuit, Google saw this as a threat to its business model. The company is therefore accused of having adopted header bidding, but then manipulating the ads in such a way that Google ads were played, even if a competitor had submitted a higher bid for the advertising space. In a Statement Google dismissed all counts of the complaint.

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