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

By: |
January 19, 2021 3:10 PM

The IT ministry, while seeking a withdrawal of the policy changes, also told WhatsApp to rethink its stance on data security, information privacy and freedom of choice.

whatsapp privacy policy updateWhatsApp has issued clarifications stating that the new policy would not impact the individual chats in any way. (Image: Reuters)

WhatsApp privacy policy update: The Indian government has asked WhatsApp to withdraw its controversial new privacy policy update. The Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has sent a strongly worded letter to the CEO of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, asking the Facebook-owned company to withdraw its unilateral privacy policy changes calling them unfair and unacceptable.

The ministry stated that Indians should be properly respected, keeping in mind that India is home to the largest user base for WhatsApp. The ministry also said that the new terms of service and privacy policy brought in by the platform are a cause of grave concern regarding the implications for choice as well as autonomy of the users in India.

The ministry, while seeking a withdrawal of these policy changes, also told WhatsApp to rethink its stance on data security, information privacy and freedom of choice.

WhatsApp has been under fire for the past few weeks over its updated privacy policy and terms of service, which made a case for sharing more user information with its parent company Facebook. The update, which was sent to Android and iOS users world over, left the users with no choice but to accept them if they wanted to continue using the platform. This led to several industry leaders including tech entrepreneur Elon Musk and Indian business tycoon Anand Mahindra to make a case for shifting to alternative platforms.

Amid the huge outrage, traders body CAIT also wrote to the Union IT Ministry seeking a restriction on WhatsApp implementing this policy, or a ban on Facebook and WhatsApp. This, along with mass public complaints, led the ministry to look into the new terms of service and privacy policy in detail and hold internal discussion to assess whether the policy was violating the current legal framework in the country.

WhatsApp has issued clarifications stating that the new policy would not impact the individual chats in any way and would only lead to business accounts on WhatsApp sharing more data with Facebook. It also said that it was committed to user privacy, something even Facebook has asserted every time it came under fire for user privacy violation. Even though the platform asserted that all of the private group and individual chats and calls would remain protected by the end-to-end encryption technology, it did little to pacify users, who have been shifting to alternative platforms like Telegram and Signal in huge numbers.

The outrage and mass shifting of users still carried on even though the platform delayed the implementation of the new policy from February to May.

Now, it seems that WhatsApp might have to implement a Europe-like exemption from this policy for Indian users if the government is committed to ensuring that WhatsApp backs out of this update. Notably, users in Europe are not covered under this new policy.

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