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I have first posted this question on Super User. Since I tagged it with Android (as I use WhatsApp on Android) it got migrated to Android Enthusiasts. There one decided that it was not on-topic for that site and got closed. This question does address the technical side of uploading only a partial address book, but it mainly focuses on the legal perspective. So perhaps it is on-topic here.


A year ago I gave into the nagging and started to use WhatsApp. With the recent update I have agree to new terms of use which contain this (italic emphasis mine):

Address Book. You provide us the phone numbers of WhatsApp users and your other contacts in your mobile phone address book on a regular basis. You confirm you are authorized to provide us such numbers to allow us to provide our Services.

So in principle I would have to send a message to each and every one of my contacts in order to ask. And while I am at it, I would actually also ask for Telegram, Hangouts, Wire, Skype, Duo, Signal; perhaps just a general authorization would be the easiest.

Then I get back a bunch of messages which I archive somewhere securely in care somebody sues me about it. Then I can prove that they gave me permission to upload their contact details. This is just tedious and a lot of work, but technically it can be done.

What do I do about the people who do not agree? Android 6.0 on my phone does not seem to allow to give only selected contacts to WhatsApp. This means that I would have to delete the number on my phone which sounds utterly inconvenient. My contacts are stored in my Google account. Should I have asked my contacts for that already?

Is there anything I can actually do about this? I think my options are the following:

  1. Continue to use WhatsApp (like virtually everyone else) and ignore that I could potentially be sued by somebody who would not consent to his contact information being uploaded.

    As I am a German citizen living in Germany, I am not sure where I would be sued, actually. WhatsApp has no department in Germany, so the US law covers my relationship with WhatsApp. Can another German citizen sue with under US law in Germany? Can only US citizens sue me, would I have to fly to the US? All in all it seems like a non-issue in personal life.

  2. Delete the WhatsApp account (if possible) and not use the service any more. In principle I would have to get rid of all the other messaging apps as well. I couldn't store my contact list in my Google account then either, right? That is also sharing the data with other people.

  3. Attempt to ask every one of my 532 contacts whether it is okay to upload their phone number. Otherwise delete the phone number or the whole contact from my address book. Keep track of these numbers in a paper notebook at home (in a safe).

My actual question: Is the third option actually possible? And what could happen if I stick with option one?

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    So in principle I would have to send a message to each and every one of my contacts in order to ask. And while I am at it, I would actually also ask for Telegram, Hangouts, Wire, Skype, Duo, Signal; perhaps just a general authorization would be the easiest. What makes you think this is the case? There is no general principle of law that requires you to obtain permission from another person before sharing their contact details. Moral duties are not legal duties. – jimsug Sep 18 '16 at 10:06
  • The WhatsApp Terms of Use make it sounds like I would not have it by default. I have read about a few German law people who say that one does not have this consent by default. – Martin Ueding Sep 18 '16 at 10:11
  • The Bundesdatenschutzgesetz (de|en) might be relevant here. – Philipp Sep 19 '16 at 13:05
  • @MartinUeding: If you happen to find my phone that I stupidly left lying around unlocked, then you don't have the authority to send anything in my address book to WhatsApp. – gnasher729 Aug 28 '17 at 14:14
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GDPR just activated, yesterday. I found this question having used that entire paragraph as my search term.

They seem to refer SOLELY to numbers, without any other data, personal or otherwise.

As I understand it GDPR speaks to two or more personally identifiable pieces of information. My initial reaction is a phone number on its own is neither two or morr nor an personally identifiable piece of data.

While I am not highly confident about this, it is my view on this Day 2 of GDPR.

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