Germany has banned WhatsApp’s controversial ‘take it or leave it’ privacy policy that comes into effect on May 15, will India be next?

By: |
May 14, 2021 4:05 PM

The new terms and conditions will come into effect on May 15.

Currently, parallel cases relating to the privacy policy are being heard by the Delhi HC and the top court.

WhatsApp updated privacy policy: Trouble does not seem to end for WhatsApp over its updated privacy policy. Now, Germany’s Hamburg data protection agency has barred social media giant Facebook from processing any of the additional user data that it collects from WhatsApp under the updated privacy policy that was announced at the beginning of the year. The policy has come under fire from users and countries across the world ever since it has been announced because WhatsApp is not only sharing additional data with Facebook, but it is also not letting users opt out of accepting this policy. The new terms and conditions will come into effect on May 15 and WhatsApp has already warned, it will essentially make its app “useless” if users don’t accept them (after an undisclosed period of time).

Facebook, on the other hand, is now looking at its options to file an appeal against the directive.

Also read | Will WhatsApp delete your account on May 15 if you don’t accept its controversial privacy policy update? No, but it will eventually

The story so far

The policy had been announced in January this year out of the blue by the instant messaging app, and it had given users time till February 8 to accept the policy. The platform had said that users who chose to not accept the policy would no longer be able to use WhatsApp, in a way exploiting its dominant position and attempting to strongarm users into accepting the controversial policy.

However, there was much global outrage over this, during which tech mogul Elon Musk also tweeted “Use Signal” in a seeming attempt to tell his millions of Twitter followers to switch from WhatsApp to the privacy-oriented non-profit alternative. This led to a significant increase in the user base of Signal as well as competitor Telegram, both of which began preparing their platforms to welcome the WhatsApp users by adding a hoard of features and making switching easier. In the middle of all this, WhatsApp deferred the implementation of the policy to May 15, and decided to use this time to “make users aware about the new terms”. Now, the implementation of the policy has again been deferred.

Also read | WhatsApp ‘updates’ privacy policy to share user data with Facebook, Elon Musk says ‘use’ Signal instead

During this time, in India, the Union IT Ministry took cognisance of the uproar and started a scrutiny of it to determine if it violated the laws in place in the country. Some users also filed petitions in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court regarding this issue.

The status of policy in India

India had sought to block the implementation of the updated policy while it was being investigated, but now that the implementation has been deferred, at least for a few weeks, this issue need not be dwelled upon for some time.

The IT Ministry had, soon after taking cognisance of the policy, written to WhatsApp stating that the policy was of “grave concern” with regard to the choice as well as the autonomy of the Indian users of the platform. The ministry had also asserted that with the updated policy, the Mark Zuckerburg-owned company would be able to make very precise as well as invasive deductions about the users. Apart from this, the Centre had also sent to WhatsApp 14 questions about the updated policy and the details of how the data collected in India was stored. Later on, the Delhi High Court was also told by the Ministry that the updated privacy policy was in violation of the IT Rules of 2011 on five counts.

Also read | India sends strong message to WhatsApp, asks it to withdraw controversial privacy policy update

A plea had also been filed in the apex court that alleged that WhatsApp was indulging in differential treatment between users in India and those in Europe, as the policy had, in January, been brought to all the countries except for those in Europe.

Currently, parallel cases relating to the privacy policy are being heard by the Delhi HC and the top court.

However, due to the criticism it is facing in India, Facebook has now hit back at Centre, if reports are to be believed, saying that apps like koo, BigBasket, Aarogya Setu, Zomato, and Ola, as well as tech giants like Zoom, Microsoft and Google collect as much or even more data as collected by Facebook under the updated policy. Reports have said that the response had been filed in an affidavit submitted to the Delhi HC against a petition.

In the latest development, a senior official of the IT Ministry has said that the government was pro-actively trying to find the best option with regard to this issue.

Also read | WhatsApp, Centre get SC notice on plea alleging lower privacy standards for Indian users

The ministry is in the position to possibly leverage the fact that India forms one of the largest user bases for Facebook and its services. Apart from that, the government can also pressurise Facebook into granting India a Europe-like exemption from the policy, especially now that Germany has placed a ban on Facebook from collecting additional data through WhatsApp. India is, in any case, at a strong point when it comes to apps allegedly violating user privacy, especially because Facebook is well aware of the fact that in 2020, India banned over a 100 apps with Chinese links, including highly popular ones like TikTok and PUBG Mobile. The Centre might also be able to leverage this strong position as Facebook would suffer a major blow if it were to lose its expansive user base in India.

But, it might be best for now to wait and see how things pan out in this regard.

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