WhatsApp Reportedly Asked By Indian Ministry To Withdraw Privacy Policy Changes

Facebook-owned messaging giant WhatsApp has been asked by the Indian government to withdraw its planned alteration of its privacy policy that has faced widespread backlash, claimed multiple reports in India.

According to the reports, India’s technology ministry the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked the WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart to withdraw the proposed change in the company’s privacy policy because it had raised “grave concerns” related to the implications for choice and autonomy of Indian citizens. This was communicated by the ministry in an email to the company chief dated January 18.

According to WhatsApp, the proposed privacy update is specifically related to features that allow users to interact with businesses on WhatsApp.

The lack of options for Indian users of WhatsApp about choosing to opt out of the messaging app and its planned policy update compared to the choice available to the users of the app in Europe because of more stringent data protection laws, the ministry reportedly said according ot reports. This was referred to by the tech ministry as “discriminatory treatment” that “betrays a lack of respect for the rights and interest of Indian citizens.”

“Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes,” the ministry reportedly wrote, according to reports. WhatsApp has also been asked by the ministry to respond to 14 questions including the type of data that was collected by the messaging app, whether the company profiled its users according to their usage habits as well as cross border data flows, claimed various reports on the issue.

“We wish to reinforce that this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook. Our aim is to provide transparency and new options available to engage with businesses so they can serve their customers and grow. WhatsApp will always protect personal messages with end-to-end encryption so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see them,” said a WhatsApp spokesperson to the media.

The change in the privacy policy was first mentioned by WhatsApp in October last year when it had said that it could manage their chat logs with customers by storing them on Facebook’s hosting services. Business users of the messaging app would be able to view the contents of the messages sent to them on WhatsApp and that information may also be used by businesses for marketing purposes including posting advertisements on Facebook.

There was however globally widespread criticism of the proposed changes partly because of misinformation spread online. There were concerns and worries among users about the updated privacy policy as they felt this change was a signal that the messaging would in the future engage in broader user data sharing with Facebook and other sister concerns. Such concerns also drove users to seek out alternatives including rival apps Signal and Telegram which experienced a surge in downloads. Some user data with its parent company has been shared by WhatsApp since 2016.

With more than 400 million users, India is one of the largest markets for WhatsApp. Last year the messaging app also started a service to send money through the app.


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