Updated: May 20, 2021 6:56:33 pm
“We have a sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens. The government will consider various options available under the law,” a senior IT ministry official said.
Officials said that mere deferral by WhatsApp of the last date to accept the updated terms beyond its deadline of May 15 did not absolve it from respecting informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users.
In a statement, WhatsApp said it continued to engage with the Indian government and its update did not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone. “No accounts were deleted on May 15 because of this update and no one in India lost functionality of WhatsApp either. We will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks,” a spokesperson said.
The privacy update, the IT ministry letter had then said, enabled WhatsApp and other Facebook companies “to make invasive and precise inferences about users”.
“This approach has the potential to infringe on core values of data privacy, user choice and autonomy of Indian users. Given the huge user base of WhatsApp and Facebook in India, the consolidation of this sensitive information also exposes a very large segment of Indian citizens to greater information security risk and vulnerabilities creating a potential honeypot of information,” the IT ministry had said in the letter to Cathcart.
Discriminatory, says govt
The new notice by the government is the second such to WhatsApp. The ministry has again underlined that the company's accept-the-terms-or-leave-the-platform stance for Indian users did not apply to its European consumers.
In the new notice sent on Tuesday, the IT ministry reiterated the “discriminatory” treatment meted out to Indian WhatsApp users compared to those in Europe. “As you are doubtlessly aware, many Indian citizens depend on WhatsApp to communicate in everyday life. It is not just problematic, but also irresponsible, for WhatsApp to leverage this position to impose unfair terms and conditions on Indian users, particularly those that discriminate against Indian users vis-à-vis users in Europe,” the new notice reads.
In its January letter, the ministry had said that WhatsApp’s accept-the-terms-or-leave-the-platform stance for users in India, when the same did not apply to its European users, “betrayed a lack of respect for the rights and interests” of Indian users.
The updated policy terms were first announced by WhatsApp via an in-app notification, asking users to agree to those by February 8 or lose access to their accounts. Following protests by both users and privacy activists, WhatsApp had on January 15 announced that it was delaying the implementation of the changes to May 15.
WhatsApp has reiterated that its messaging app is end-to-end encrypted and that it doesn’t have access to private chats or location, nor does it share private messages or other data with Facebook. However, the new update will enable WhatsApp to use some of the “business conversations” hosted with the social network for advertising.
With over 400 million users, India is one of the biggest markets for WhatsApp. As of July 2020, the company had more than 50 million WhatsApp Business users globally, of which over 15 million used the service in India every month.
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