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WhatsApp says privacy policy ‘on hold’: Shift in stand, accounts safe for now

This is a shift from WhatsApp's earlier position, in which it said that users of personal accounts would have to either accept the new privacy policy or risk having their services restricted, and eventually being told to leave the platform.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi |
Updated: July 10, 2021 7:11:26 am
In May 2019, the Financial Times reported that Pegasus was being used to exploit WhatsApp and spy on potential targets. WhatsApp issued an urgent software update to fix the security bug that was allowing the spyware to exploit the app. (Representational image)

The lawyer for WhatsApp told Delhi High Court on Friday that users of the instant messaging platform would not be compelled to sign up for the new privacy policy as “it had been put on hold”, and that the company would not limit functionality for those who were yet to accept the policy, or de-platform them.

A company spokesperson said this would be the approach at least until the new personal data protection Bill became law.

This is a shift from WhatsApp’s earlier position, in which it said that users of personal accounts would have to either accept the new privacy policy or risk having their services restricted, and eventually being told to leave the platform.

Users who are yet to consent to the terms and conditions of the new privacy policy will continue to get reminders from WhatsApp. They can, however, ignore them without fear of having their services limited or accounts deleted.

Also, even if such users interact with business accounts on WhatsApp, the data from that interaction will not, for now, be shared with Facebook.

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Data from WhatsApp interactions with business accounts by users who have consented to the new privacy policy may, however, be shared with Facebook, which owns WhatsApp.

WhatsApp has repeatedly said that signing up for the new policy does not mean that private data of the user would be shared with Facebook. It has, however, accepted that the policy update would enable it to use some of the “business conversations” hosted with the social network for advertising.

WhatsApp, which has more than 53 crore users in India, had informed personal account users earlier this year that they had until February 8 to accept the new terms and conditions or delete their accounts.

After users and privacy experts protested, the company said it was deferring the rollout of the new policy to May 15, but would not extend it beyond that.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had written to WhatsApp, first in January and then in May, asking that the new policy be rolled back. The policy undermined “the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users”, the Ministry said in May.

In its letter to WhatsApp’s global Chief Executive Officer Will Cathcart, the Ministry had said that the updated privacy policy and subsequent changes would enable WhatsApp and other Facebook companies “to make invasive and precise inferences about users”.

The Ministry had then sent a set of 14 questions to WhatsApp on the various ways in which it collected data, the permissions and consents it obtained from domestic users, and whether they were different from those collected from users in other parts of the world.

The Ministry had also asked whether the company conducted any profiling and, if so, the nature of such profiling.

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