WhatsApp’s policy changes under govt scanner amid privacy concerns

India, which has 400 million WhatsApp users, is one of the biggest markets of the messaging platform

The company said it was moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms | Photo: iStock

The recent privacy policy update announced by the Facebook-owned messaging platform, WhatsApp, has come under the Centre’s scanner and implications of the move are being discussed amid concerns over the controversial changes linking data with other services.

The IT ministry is conducting internal discussions over the move, sources have said, adding that the issue needs to be looked at in detail since a large of section of users, including top business leaders, have raised concerns regarding the recent policy update.

India, which has about 400 million WhatsApp users, is one of the biggest global markets of the messaging platform, which is now facing mass migration to new competitors, Telegram and especially Signal which recently got the endorsement of Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

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According to sources, WhatsApp’s policy update would also be evaluated in the context of the current legal framework of the country. While IT Ministry has not yet asked WhatsApp for an explanation on the matter, a decision on the same is likely to be taken soon.

The development comes amid a raging debate over WhatsApp’s controversial update in its terms of service and privacy policy around how it processes user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the social media giants products.

WhatsApp had informed users about these changes through an in-app notification, last week. It said that users will have to agree to the new terms and policy by February 8, in order to continue using the platform.

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This led to a user backlash and triggered memes on the internet over WhatsApp’s alleged sharing of user information with Facebook. Many users have also started shifting to rival platforms like Telegram and Signal, and these platforms have seen millions of downloads globally in the immediate aftermath of the event.

While many tech leaders like Elon Musk advocated using other platforms like Signal, in India too a number of business leaders including Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra, Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma and PhonePe CEO Sameer Nigam spoke of moving to rival platforms.

Mahindra said he had installed Signal, while Nigam said he had moved 1,000-plus PhonePe-rs to Signal, and recreated all his workgroups and moved family groups.

Paytm’s Sharma, who has in the past too questioned rising clout and practices of foreign big-tech companies, had recently tweeted, “How long we will be taken for granted by such blatant double standards ? Self claimed ad claiming respect of our privacy v/s actual policy”.

In the tweet, Sharma had shared a picture of WhatsApp ads in Indian dailies alongside a foreign media report that quoted WhatsApp as saying that European users do not have to share data with Facebook.

Amid the public furore, WhatsApp, on its part, has sought to assuage users concerns saying its latest policy update does not affect the privacy of messages on the platform. Earlier this week, WhatsApp emphasised in a blogpost that it does not share users contact lists or data of groups with Facebook for advertisement purposes.

(With inputs from agencies)

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