Junk privacy policy: Govt to WhatsApp

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Updated: May 20, 2021 4:54 PM

The notice, sent on May 18, has given WhatsApp seven days to respond, and if the government does not receive any satisfactory response till then, it will initiate action in consonance with the laws.

wahtsappThe new WhatsApp privacy policy affects data concerning exchanges with WhatsApp Business accounts and not the regular WhatsApp accounts.

The ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) has shot off a second missive to popular messaging platform WhatsApp to roll back its new privacy policy, implemented with effect from May 15, or face action under the country’s laws.

The notice, sent on May 18, has given WhatsApp seven days to respond, and if the government does not receive any satisfactory response till then, it will initiate action in consonance with the laws.

The basic objection of the government remains the same: the changes to the privacy policy and the manner of introducing them, including in FAQ, undermines the “sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens”.

Earlier, on January 19, the government had written a strongly worded letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart warning against going ahead with the new privacy policy, stating that it is unilateral, unfair and unacceptable change. It had then also raised objections regarding the differential treatment accorded by WhatsApp to its users in India compared with those in the European Union.

The platform, which had earlier planned to roll out the new policy from February 8, had subsequently deferred its implementation to May 15. Though the new privacy policy has been implemented by WhatsApp, which seeks to share commercial user data with parent Facebook, it has said the accounts of those users who do not accept the new terms and conditions, will not be deleted for the time being. However, MeitY in its second notice has stated that such deferral beyond May 15, “does not absolve WhatsApp from respecting the values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users”.

“As you are doubtlessly aware, many Indian citizens depend on WhatsApp to communicate in everyday life. It is not just problematic, but also irresponsible, for WhatsApp to leverage this position to impose unfair terms and conditions on Indian users, particularly those that discriminate against Indian users vis-a-vis users in Europe,” MeitY has communicated in the notice.

The new policy has also been challenged in the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court where the matter is sub judice. However, the courts have not stayed its implementation.

In a late evening statement, WhatsApp said, “We continue to engage with the government and we reaffirm what we said before that this update does not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone. Our goal is to provide information about new options we are building that people will have, to message a business on WhatsApp, in the future. While the majority of users who have received the new terms of service have accepted them, we appreciate some people haven’t had the chance to do so yet”.

It said no accounts were deleted on May 15 because of this update and no one in India lost functionality of WhatsApp either. “We will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks. We’re grateful for the important role WhatsApp plays in people’s lives and we’ll take every opportunity to explain how we protect people’s personal messages and private information.”

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