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Explained: Why WhatsApp deferred deadline to accept its new privacy policy

WhatsApp privacy policy: The Facebook-owned platform said that even those users who had not accepted the updated terms of services will not have their account deleted for now.

Written by Aashish Aryan , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 11, 2021 8:26:31 am
The new privacy policy of WhatsApp has been under a lot of fire from users. (File photo)

Global instant messaging platform WhatsApp on Friday deferred for now the May 15 deadline for users to accept its privacy policy. The Facebook-owned platform said that even those users who had not accepted the updated terms of services will not have their account deleted for now.

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Why did WhatsApp defer the compulsory deadline for users to accept its privacy policy?

One of the main reasons for the deferment of the deadline could be that the new privacy policy of WhatsApp has been under a lot of fire from users, privacy activists and even the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), which flagged the new policy as “invasive” and said that it enabled WhatsApp and other Facebook group companies to make “precise inferences about users”.

These fears triggered a small exodus of users from WhatsApp in early January, with many either opting to download other instant messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram, and others deleting their accounts on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp maintains that this was caused due to “misinformation” and that it would continue to reach out to people. It has also said that the update does not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone. It has, however, deferred the deadline as it claims that “some people haven’t had the chance to do so yet”.

Why did the IT Ministry, users and privacy activists oppose the new policy?

While the users and privacy activists feared that with the new update they would have no privacy whatsoever left on the platform, the IT Ministry said that WhatsApp rolling out the update right before the data privacy law was scheduled to come in was not right.

In an affidavit before the Delhi High Court, the MeitY had said that since the Supreme Court had placed upon it a responsibility to come out with a “regime on data protection and privacy”, which would “limit the ability of entities” such as WhatsApp to issue “privacy policies which do not align with appropriate standards of security and data protection”, WhatsApp must be stopped from rolling out the services.

The IT ministry had listed five points, such as the platform’s failure to specify the type of sensitive data being collected by it, the purpose for which it is being collected, failure to provide users an option to withdraw consent on data sharing retrospectively, and failure to guarantee non-disclosure by third parties.

What’s next for WhatsApp in the privacy policy debate?

According to experts, WhatsApp is likely to choose one of two options. The platform will either roll back the privacy policy completely for now and come out with a new policy which will be more acceptable to users, privacy experts and the IT Ministry.

The second option, experts said, is for the company to wait till the Personal Data Protection Bill is passed by the parliament and then make changes to its policy accordingly.

“Given its vast user base here (in India), it is unlikely that WhatsApp will withdraw from this market. It is not only about WhatsApp. You also have Facebook and Instagram in the same family now,” a legal expert said, asking not to be named.

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