Trouble mounts for WhatsApp as India starts ‘evaluating’ controversial new privacy policy update

The ministry is looking at the problem in detail because concerns regarding this privacy policy have been raised by a lot of users along with top business leaders.

whatsapp privacy policy update
India is a major market for WhatsApp, accounting for more than 400 million or 40 crore users.

WhatsApp privacy policy: WhatsApp has been a target of controversy and criticism ever since it announced the new privacy policy last week, which would link the user data from WhatsApp to other products and services of parent company Facebook. Trouble is still knocking on its door, it seems, because now, the Centre is examining as well as evaluating the recent changes. The Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is holding internal discussion to understand the implications that this move would have. The ministry is looking at the problem in detail because concerns regarding this privacy policy have been raised by a lot of users along with top business leaders.

India is a major market for WhatsApp, accounting for more than 400 million or 40 crore users, and the move could have major implications for the instant messaging app.

If reports are to be believed, the ministry would carry out the evaluation of the new privacy policy against the current legal framework. Moreover, the ministry could soon be taking a decision on whether they should seek an explanation from WhatsApp over the controversial policy or not.

WhatsApp privacy policy update: The issue

The uproar began after WhatsApp, in the latest privacy policy update it rolled out globally, detailed the way the Facebook-owned messaging platform processes the data of the users and works with the social media giant to provide integrated services across Facebook products.

What caused the criticism to worsen was the fact that it was mandatory for users to agree to these terms of service and privacy policy. WhatsApp told users that the policy would come into effect on February 8, and if they wanted to continue using the app, they would need to agree to these terms by then. Users who choose to not agree with these terms would not be able to use WhatsApp come February 8.

WhatsApp criticism: Backlash from business leaders

As people started making memes on WhatsApp and expressing their displeasure at the way they were being arm-twisted into accepting these terms, top business leaders also entered the debate.

Tech mogul Elon Musk posted a simple two-word tweet to drive a huge chunk of people to an alternative app. “Use Signal” was his simple solution, and it had a major impact too. Within days, not-for-profit instant messaging app Signal saw a significant growth in user count.

But Elon Musk was not alone. Indian business tycoons like Anand Mahindra, the chairman of Mahindra Group, PhonePe CEO Sameer Nigam, and founder of PayTM Vijay Shekhar Sharma also asked their followers to move to alternative platforms, with both Mahindra and Nigam advocating Signal.

CAIT’s call to ban Facebook, WhatsApp

Amid the major uproar, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) also wrote to the Union IT Ministry seeking either a ban on Facebook as well as WhatsApp or a restriction on WhatsApp from implementing this policy. The traders body said that all kinds of personal information including payment transactions, location, etc, would be acquired by the messaging app for any use. It also asserted that as many as 20 crore Indians used Facebook and if the social media giant was allowed to access their data, it would pose a serious threat to the country.

Notably, users in Europe are exempt from sharing their data with Facebook, and it could be that CAIT was requesting the government to place a similar kind of restriction on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp’s clarification on privacy policy

WhatsApp, earlier this week, issued a clarification on the updated privacy policy, saying that the updated policy would in no way impact the private chats of individuals, which would continue to be protected by end-to-end encryption. Similar kind of security would also remain in place for group chats and calls made over WhatsApp. The Facebook-owned platform assured that neither it nor Facebook would be able to access the content of private conversations – text or call, and the updated privacy policy would only impact the way businesses function over WhatsApp.

Thus, chats of business accounts with individuals could be shared with Facebook by the businesses for better integration of Facebook services across products, but the chats of two non-business accounts would not be accessible to anyone else, it had clarified. Location shared over private chats would also not be accessible to the two platforms, and WhatsApp would also not share contact list of any individual with Facebook, it asserted.

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First published on: 14-01-2021 at 16:50 IST