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WhatsApp puts new privacy policy on hold until data protection bill comes into force: Report

This update to WhatsApp’s policies has raised concerns of privacy violations and led to a probe being conducted by India’s competition regulatory body. 

WhatsApp on Friday told the Delhi High Court that it has put its new privacy policy on hold until the data protection bill comes into force and it would not limit the functionality for users who haven’t agreed to the new privacy policy, the Economic Times reported.

Appearing on behalf of WhatsApp and speaking about the new policy, Senior Advocate Harish Salve said, “We voluntarily agreed to put it on hold… we will not compel people to accept.” However, Salve said that messaging platform would still continue to display the update to its users, the report stated.

“The commitment is that I will not do anything till the parliamentary law comes. Obviously then if parliamentary law comes, you have to fit within that law. If Parliament allows me to have a separate policy for India, I will have it. If it does not allow me, then bad luck. I will then have to take a call,” Salve said, according to The Indian Express.

What is the new privacy policy about?

The new policies are largely expanded and better-explained versions of their existing conditions, albeit with some additions. The most notable addition includes WhatsApp’s integration into the Facebook family of products and more data-sharing with Facebook. 

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It allows 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.

This free flow of data between Facebook apps would theoretically allow the company to understand user preferences and profiles, helping them improve their ad targeting algorithms.

Timeline of key events

January 4, 2021: WhatsApp began alerting its users globally with an in-app notification about updates to its terms of service and privacy policies. It told users that those who do not consent to its changed policies will be unable to use the application after February 8, 2021.

January 14: A petition is filed in the Delhi High Court contended WhatsApp’s latest update to its privacy policy is an “absolute violation” of the right to privacy and gives the company a 360-degree profile of a person’s online activity.

January 16: After facing considerable backlash and finding itself in the middle of a heated debate about privacy, WhatsApp defers the application of its updated privacy policy by three months, giving users till May 15 to accept the new terms.

January 19: IT Ministry writes a letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart asking to withdraw proposed changes to WhatsApp’s terms and conditions.

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February: WhatsApp starts displaying banners in the app with information about the changes to address the backlash.

March 25: The Competition Commission of India (CCI) orders an investigation to ascertain the “full extent, scope, and impact” of data sharing under WhatsApp’s new privacy policy and terms of use.

April 22: The Delhi High Court dismisses the writ petitions filed by WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook against the CCI’s investigation into the privacy policy update, allowing CCI to go ahead with its investigation.

May 7: WhatsApp said that it will not terminate user accounts after May 15, the deadline for accepting its new privacy policy.

May 10: Although WhatsApp said that it will not kick off users who don’t accept its new privacy policy by May 15, an Entrackr report reveals that users who don’t agree to reminders of the new policy will have their account severely restricted.

May 25: In a reversal to an earlier statement, WhatsApp says that it will not limit features to users who are yet to “agree” or provide consent to their new privacy policy, and will await the proposed Personal Data Protection (Bill) which is being deliberated by a parliamentary committee.

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June 21: WhatsApp urges the Delhi High Court to stay CCI’s notice asking it to furnish information in relation to an investigation ordered by the regulatory body into the messaging app’s new privacy policy.

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