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Will look into privacy concerns over WhatsApp accessing mic in background: Rajeev Chandrasekhar

It’s not clear how the Indian government plans to hold WhatsApp accountable if there is a privacy violation as India does not have any data protection regulation yet

India’s Minister of State for Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar on May 10 tweeted that the government will immediately look into the issue of WhatsApp allegedly accessing the mic of a user in the background while he was asleep.

Chandrasekhar called it an “unacceptable breach and violation of privacy” and said that the government “will be examining this immediately and will act on any violation of privacy even as the new Digital Personal Data Protection Bill #DPDP is being readied.”

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The Minister’s comments come in response to the concerns raised by Twitter engineer Foad Dabiri on May 6, who tweeted that WhatsApp has been using his microphone in the background while he was asleep. He shared a timeline of WhatsApp’s mic access from Android’s Privacy Dashboard to support his claim:

WhatsApp, on May 9, addressed the allegation stating that the issue pointed out by Dabiri appears to be a bug on Android and that the messaging platform has asked Google to investigate and fix the issue. The messaging platform added that the mic is only accessed for calls, voice notes, or videos, and even then it’s end-to-end encrypted, meaning WhatsApp cannot hear any recordings.

It’s not clear how the Indian government plans to hold WhatsApp accountable if there is a privacy violation as India does not have any data protection regulation yet (with the Data Protection Bill being in the works since 2017) and the protections offered by the IT Rules, 2011, don’t go far enough. Also, if WhatsApp’s clarifications are to be believed, the issue is with Google’s Android and not the messaging platform.

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This is not the only privacy concern around WhatsApp that the Indian government is looking into. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is currently investigating the platform’s updated privacy policy from 2021. The same privacy policy also faces a challenge at the Supreme Court, which has decided to defer the hearing until the data protection bill is passed.

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