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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

WhatsApp defers May 15 deadline on privacy policy

Earlier this year in January, WhatsApp had, through an in-app notification, told its users that it had updated the privacy policy and that if they did not accept the updated terms by February 8, they would lose access to their accounts.

Written by Aashish Aryan | New Delhi |
Updated: May 9, 2021 4:53:10 pm
WhatsApp, WhatsApp Privacy PolicyThe Facebook-owned company also said that though most WhatsApp users had accepted the terms of the updated privacy policy, some have not had the chance to do so. (Photo: Reuters)

Instant messaging platform WhatsApp on Friday said it had for now done away with the May 15 deadline for users to accept its privacy policy and that it would “follow up” with people who had not yet accepted the new terms of service.

“No accounts will be deleted on May 15 because of this update and no one in India will lose functionality of WhatsApp either. We will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement.

The Facebook-owned company also said that though most WhatsApp users had accepted the terms of the updated privacy policy, some have not had the chance to do so.

“We’ve spent the last few months working to clear up confusion and misinformation. As a reminder this update does not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier this year in January, WhatsApp had, through an in-app notification, told its users that it had updated the privacy policy and that if they did not accept the updated terms by February 8, they would lose access to their accounts.

The ultimatum did not sit well with users and privacy activists, who raised alarm about how the new policy was invasive and would lead to the data of users being breached. To these claims, WhatsApp clarified that the changes were necessary to help businesses through WhatsApp Business, which was launched by the company in 2018 to facilitate communication between businesses and customers.

Under fire for its updated privacy policy and February 8 deadline, WhatsApp had on January 15 said that since there was a lot of misinformation on what the new update was all about, the deadline to agree to the new terms of service was being pushed to May 15.

Apart from protests from users, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had also sent across a strongly worded letter to the global Chief Executive Officer of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, asking him to withdraw the new privacy policy.

In the letter, the IT ministry had said that the proposed changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy Policy raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens”. The new policy update enabled WhatsApp and other Facebook companies “to make invasive and precise inferences about users”, the ministry had then said.

A set of 14 questions concerning the new policy and how the data being collected in India was stored and used had also been sent to WhatsApp.

Later in March, the ministry also told the Delhi High Court in an affidavit that the new privacy policy announced by WhatsApp in January violated the 2011 IT Rules on five counts, and urged it to restrain the messaging app from implementing the policy.

Citing several Supreme Court judgments, the Ministry had said that since the highest court of the land had placed a responsibility upon it 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.

WhatsApp’s announcement on January 4, in which it informed users of its new policy, started with ‘Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA’. This phrase has earlier been used verbatim by the messaging platform’s co-founder Jan Koum, who had left the company over differences in the way user data was being used.

“Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA, and we built WhatsApp around the goal of knowing as little about you as possible: You don’t have to give us your name and we don’t ask for your email address. We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address. We don’t know where you work. We don’t know your likes, what you search for on the Internet, or collect your GPS location. None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that,” Koum had written after Facebook’s $16 billion buyout of WhatsApp.

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