India asks Facebook to withdraw its updated WhatsApp privacy policy

Ruben Fields
January 20, 2021

The reiteration came following the government's letter to Will Cathcart, the Global CEO of WhatsApp, asking that the new policy for Indian users be withdrawn. "This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security", the ministry said in the email. It said, with over 400 million users in India, the changes will have a disproportionate impact on the country's citizens.

"Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data".

WhatsApp had on 16 January delayed the introduction of the new privacy policy after user backlash over sharing of user data and information with the parent company, Facebook Inc.

The letter, seen by BusinessLine, also has a detailed questionnaire seeking from WhatsApp the details of its data-sharing protocols and business practices.

Through an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp had asked users to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location.

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Facebook-owned messaging platform has finally responded to the Indian government. Creating a "honeypot of information about users" is unsafe, it added.

WhatsApp said despite the update, neither it nor Facebook could read users' messages or hear their calls with friends, family or co-workers.

Some businesses, as per the new policy, were to use Facebook-owned servers to store messages. "This differential and discriminatory treatment of Indian and European users is attracting serious criticism and betrays a lack of respect for the rights and interest of Indian citizens, who form a substantial portion of WhatsApp's user base". The government has questioned this "all-or-nothing" approach and said that this takes away any meaningful choice from Indian users.

It went on to state that the Personal Data Protection Bill is being discussed by a joint committee of the Parliament and making "a momentous change for its Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse".

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