Union govt tells WhatsApp to take back new privacy policy

In its letter to WhatsApp, the Union government said that Indian users are discriminated against vis-à-vis users in Europe.
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The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) on Wednesday wrote to WhatsApp, asking the social media giant to take back its new rivacy policy. The Union government gave the company seven days — upto May 25 — to respond, and has said it will take necessary steps if it does not receive a response. In its letter, Meity called WhatsApp’s move to leverage its position to impose its terms and conditions in the Indian market “irresponsible”. The policy came into effect on May 15, and while earlier WhatsApp said users will not be able to use the app if they don’t accept the terms and conditions, it later did not bar users who did not accept the terms but severely restricted functionality. 

In its letter, the Ministry reportedly said that the deferral of the policy beyond May 15 does not absolve WhatsApp “from respecting the values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users.” According to ANI, the Union government said that Indian users are discriminated against vis-à-vis users in Europe.

The privacy policy changes undermines values of privacy, data security and harms rights of Indian citizens, it reportedly states.“As you're 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-à-vis users in Europe,” the letter said, according to ANI. 

Stating that many Indian users depend on WhatsApp for communication on a daily basis, Meity reportedly said WhatsApp’s privacy policy was in violation of many existing Indian laws and rules. 

Under the new privacy policy, WhatsApp had said that user data will be shared across Facebook and the companies it owns. Whatever information WhatsApp automatically collects from you will be shared with Facebook. This includes your mobile phone number and basic information you give when you create a WhatsApp account. Information can also be used by Facebook and its other products to make suggestions for you, personalise features and content, help you complete purchases and transactions, and show relevant offers and ads across the Facebook Company Products.

WhatsApp has said that all messages are encrypted end-to-end, which means that neither WhatsApp, nor a third party can read them. The policy had also said that it ‘must’ receive and collect some information to “operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our services, including when you install, access, or use our services.” WhatsApp said that if you use WhatsApp Pay, additional information, including payment account and transaction information is processed by the company.

The matter of WhatsApp’s privacy policy is currently in the Delhi High Court. Earlier this week, the Union government told the Delhi High Court that it views the new privacy policy of WhatsApp as a violation of the Indian Information Technology (IT) law and rules, and sought directions to the social media platform to make it clear whether it was confirming the same.

WhatsApp told the bench that while its new privacy policy has come into effect from May 15, it would not start deleting accounts of those users who have not accepted it and would try to encourage them to get on board. The platform said there was no universal or uniform time limit after which it will start to delete accounts as each user would be dealt with on a case-to-case basis.

The bench issued notice to the Union government, Facebook and WhatsApp and sought their stand on one of the pleas by a lawyer who has claimed that the new policy violates users' right to privacy under the Constitution.

The Union government also said it has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the issue and a reply is awaited and therefore, there was a need to maintain status quo with regard to implementation of the policy.

The Union government had earlier also told the court that WhatsApp was treating Indian users differently from Europeans over opting out of its new privacy policy which was a matter of concern for the government and it was looking into the issue. It had also said it was also a matter of concern that Indian users were being "unilaterally" subjected to the change in privacy policy by the instant messaging platform and that the government was looking into it. The matter will further be heard on June 3.

With inputs from PTI

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