India asks court to restrain WhatsApp implementing new privacy policy

WhatsApp privacy policy India
Image by Rafael Henrique | Bigstockphoto

India said that WhatsApp’s new privacy policy and terms of services violates the country’s IT rules on five counts and has officially asked a local court to restrain the Facebook-owned messaging app from implementing the privacy policy.

India’s ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY), in an affidavit to the Delhi High Court, said that collecting the sensitive personal information of users and sharing data with Facebook and other third parties violate India’s Information Technology Rules, 2011.

“WhatsApp fails to specify types of personal data being collected, fails to notify user details of the collection of sensitive personal information; provide an option to review or amend information; provide an option to withdraw consent retrospectively and guarantee further non-disclosure by third parties,” it added.

“Crucially, there is no distinction between personal data or sensitive personal data which is being collected,” it further added.

In its affidavit, the ministry said that WhatsApp’s privacy policy mentions the involvement of third-party service providers who may have access to the data. However, the names of these service providers and other associated details have not been provided.

“This is also the case for other Facebook companies, who are allowed to receive and share information about the user from and with WhatsApp. The new privacy policy fails to provide an option to withdraw consent retrospectively,” it acknowledged.

Minister of State for IT and Communications Sanjay Dhotre separately informed the Lok Sabha that MeitY took cognizance of the WhatsApp announcement of its new Privacy Policy stated to apply to Indian users. “To safeguard the interest of Indian users, Meity has asked WhatsApp to review the proposed privacy policy changes and also to explain the rationale of the same.”

WhatsApp has more than 400 million users in India, which is the app’s biggest market globally. In January, the app had brought out a privacy update that would allow it to share commercial user data with parent Facebook and group companies.

WhatsApp, however, clarified that the policy update doesn’t change its data-sharing practices with Facebook and won’t impact how people communicate privately with friends and family wherever they are in the world. It deferred implementation from February to May after users began shifting to rival messaging apps.

“As we said in January when this matter was first raised, we wish to reinforce that this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook. WhatsApp will always protect personal messages with end-to-end encryption so neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see them. We are working to address misinformation and remain available to answer any questions,” WhatsApp said in a media statement after MeitY submitted its affidavit.

WhatsApp will display a banner in the app, providing more information that people can read at their own pace. The banner will include more information to try and address concerns that users have been raising.

Various Indian companies have reportedly issued advisories to employees asking them to avoid sharing sensitive information on WhatsApp. They have also asked employees to stop using the messaging platform for critical business calls.

Related article: India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw changes to its privacy policy

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