Govt asks WhatsApp to withdraw privacy policy.

The government has again asked WhatsApp to withdraw its new privacy policy as it undermines “informational privacy, data security, and user choice” while warning the mobile messaging service provider it will take necessary steps in consonance with the Indian law if satisfactory action was not taken.

In a notice issued on Tuesday, the government said the policy’s deferral beyond May 15 does not absolve WhatsApp from respecting values of informational privacy and data security. The company has been given seven days to respond.

The contentious policy includes mandatory sharing of data with WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook and proposes to take away the choice for users to opt-out of it. It triggered a backlash and boycott calls over the concerns about data security. Many users moved to other messaging applications such as Signal and Telegram and prompted WhatsApp on January 16 to delay the introduction of the changes.

In the notice, the ministry of electronics and information technology said WhatsApp was treating users in India and Europe differently. “…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 notice said the policy violates several provisions of the Indian laws and rules.

It added it undermines “the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens”.

India is Facebook-owned WhatsApp’s biggest market with about 400 million users.

WhatsApp on Friday last said that its users will not lose functionality on May 15 if they do not agree to the policy as it confirmed that it had pushed back its deadline for its roll-out. The policy was initially meant to leave people with no option but to agree with the policy if they wanted to keep using the app.

The confirmation came amid reports that indicated the company could gradually put some functionality out of users’ reach, before eventually leaving users with no choice but to delete the app. The company said a majority of users have approved the update as it reiterated it does not impact the privacy of personal messages.

The Guardian on Friday last reported WhatsApp users will be unable to dismiss the screen asking them to accept the new terms beginning May 15. It said the users will still be able to receive calls and reply to messages through notifications. “In time, however, even that will be disabled, leaving users with no choice but to accept the new rules, or delete their accounts entirely.”

An official, requesting anonymity, said WhatsApp earlier claimed that it officially deferred its new privacy policy beyond May 15. “However, the ministry, in its communication, today [Tuesday] stated that deferral of the privacy policy…does not absolve WhatsApp from respecting the values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users,” said the official. The official cited the government’s sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens and added it will consider options available under the laws in India.

In a letter dated January 18 to WhatsApp chief executive officer Will Cathcart, the government earlier said the proposed changes to the privacy policy “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens”. The policy has also been challenged in the Delhi high court.

HT reached out to WhatsApp for a response to the ministry’s notice but did not receive one immediately.

Source- Hindustan Times.

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