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Have asked WhatsApp to review its proposed privacy policy: MEITY in Parliament

WhatsApp, Parliament House India

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) has asked WhatsApp to review the proposed privacy policy changes and also to explain the rationale of the same, the ministry told Parliament on Thursday. The ministry’s statement is confirmation of news from last month, that the government had written to the Facebook-owned company to review the new controversial privacy policy. The new policy, which has been deferred to May, would have presumably allowed for more data sharing between WhatsApp and other companies in the Facebook ecosystem.

M. Shanmugam, DMK MP in the Rajya Sabha, had asked the ministry information on whether there was an increasing number of complaints on the misuse of personal data by “various apps” in the country; and whether the ministry was doing anything about it. In response, MEITY said that it “regularly interacts with social media platforms to make them more responsive”. “MeitY recently has asked WhatsApp to review the proposed privacy policy changes and also to explain the rationale of the same,” it added.

Shanmugam also asked if India has provisions such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to protect and regulate personal data. MEITY pointed to the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which is currently being considered by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

Whatspp’s new policy: Why the ruckus?

At the start of the new year, WhatsApp sent in-app notifications to users in India, showing them the new terms of service and privacy policies. The company told users they would have to accept the policies by February 8, 2021, failing which they would lose access to WhatsApp altogether.

  • Data sharing with Facebook: The updated privacy policy raised some eyebrows: it allowed WhatsApp to share any information identified in the policy’s extensive “Information We Collect” section. Additionally, messages to WhatsApp Business accounts could potentially be shared with third-party service providers, which could include Facebook itself.
  • No choice for Indian users: Indian users do not have the option to opt out of the data sharing agreements, a choice users in the European Union do. This is largely because of stricter regulations on personal data in the EU. This distinction is something the government is said to have flagged in its letter to WhatsApp.

The policy update prompted an out-migration of WhatsApp users to Signal and Telegram. Soon enough, WhatsApp announced that it would be deferring the policy. However, the company didn’t say it would review or change the policy, indicating that it wished to keep the policy unchanged. Instead, the company said it is giving people more time to review the policy.

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*Update (February 26): This post has been updated to represent the final version of the Rules that were notified on Thursday evening.  The government...

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