Privacy policy row: India threatens action against WhatsApp

WhatsApp privacy policy
WhatsApp security and privacy issues. Image by Somnath Mahata | Bigstockphoto

India has directed Facebook-owned WhatsApp to roll back its contentious new privacy policy and has given seven days to respond to its notice. The country’s  Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has reportedly threatened to take action against the company if it doesn’t receive any satisfactory reply from WhatsApp. 

 In its letter on May 18, the ministry said that WhatsApp’s new privacy policy violates several provisions of the existing laws and rules.

“In fulfilment of its sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the government of India will consider various options available to it under laws in India,” Meity said in its letter.

The ministry said that 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-à-vis users in Europe,” it said in its letter.

The ministry had conveyed similar views to the Delhi High Court and asked it to restrain WhatsApp from implementing the privacy policy. The matter is currently sub-judice. 

MeitY had then said that WhatsApp’s new privacy policy and terms of services violate the country’s IT rules on five counts. It also added that collecting users’ sensitive personal information and sharing data with Facebook and other third parties violate India’s Information Technology Rules, 2011.

WhatsApp has more than 400 million users in India, which is the app’s biggest market globally. The Indian ministry said that the messaging platform is misusing its dominant position in the market. 

In January, the messaging platform brought out a privacy update that would allow it to share commercial user data with parent Facebook and group companies. It maintained that users who don’t accept the privacy policy update would lose access to their WhatsApp account, leading to an uproar on social media. 

The company, however, changed its stance and clarified in courts that no user accounts will be deleted. It also 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. 

Various Indian companies 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.

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