What ‘s Up? ‘Withdraw new policy, answer 14 questions’, says India

Virendra Pandit 

New Delhi: India has directed troubled instant messenger WhatsApp, already facing rough weather in its largest global market, to withdraw its new privacy policy, saying the Facebook-owned messaging platform’s proposed changes “make invasive and precise inferences about users”.

In a strongly-worded letter to WhatsApp, India said the Indians should be properly respected and that “unilateral changes are not fair and acceptable”. The proposed changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy Policy “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens.”

The Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has asked the messenger to withdraw the proposed changes and reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice, and data security.

In an email addressed to WhatsApp’s global head Will Cathcart on Monday, the ministry asked him to clarify issues related to the messenger’s “privacy and data transfer and sharing policies, and general business practices,” within a week, media reported.

The proposed policy changes “will have a disproportionate impact on the Indian citizens,” given that India is WhatsApp’s largest user base globally, with 400 million users out of 2000 million.

The government also asked WhatsApp to answer 14 questions related to the proposed update within seven days of the email.

WhatsApp recently deferred introducing its new privacy policy from February 8 to May 15 after it faced unprecedented backlash and migration of millions of users globally to rival platforms like Signal and Telegraph.

The messenger said the update will not change data-sharing with Facebook with regard to personal conversations or other profile information. The policy changes only address business chats in the event a user converses with a company’s customer service platform through WhatsApp.

But concerned users continued to migrate to other messengers, with Signal being their first alternative messenger.

“These changes enable WhatsApp, and other Facebook companies, to make invasive and precise inferences about users which may not be reasonably foreseen or expected by users in the ordinary course of accessing these services,” said the ministry.

“These changes notify users that WhatsApp will collect highly invasive and granular metadata, such as time, frequency and duration of interactions, group names, payments and transaction data, online status, location indicators, as well as any messages shared by users with business accounts…Whether this will enable better provision of services to users or not is beside the point, the issue is the impact it has on informational privacy, data security, and user choice.”

Now, India has sought details of WhatsApp’s services in India,  permissions and consent required by different versions (personal and business versions) of the messenger, the nature of profiling of Indian citizens through it, the server used for the data of Indian users transmitted and hosted, and whether there is a difference in the company’s privacy policy in India and other countries.



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