Indian urges Facebook to withdraw WhatsApp new privacy policy

Last Updated: January 20, 2021

India’s technology ministry has asked WhatsApp to withdraw changes to its new privacy policy update the company announced earlier this month, declaring that the new terms take away choice from Indian users.

“The proposed changes raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology wrote in an email to WhatsApp representative, Will Cathcart.

“Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”

The demand creates a new problem for WhatsApp and its U.S. parent company, Facebook that so far have invested $5.7 billion last year in the digital unit of Indian conglomerate Reliance with a huge part of that aimed at drawing in tens of millions of traditional shop owners to use digital payments via WhatsApp.

With 400 million users in India, WhatsApp has big plans for India’s growing digital payments space, including selling health insurance via partners.

Those aspirations could take a hit if Indians switch to rival messengers such as Signal and Telegram, downloads of which have surged after WhatsApp announced its new policy that would ‘share user data with Facebook and its companies’

It is of “great concern” that Indian users have not been given the choice to opt-out of this data sharing with Facebook companies and are being given less choice compared to the app’s European users, the tech ministry letter said.

“This differential and discriminatory treatment of Indian and European users is attracting serious criticism and betrays a lack of respect for the rights and interest of Indian citizens who form a substantial portion of WhatsApp’s user base.”

The ministry asked WhatsApp to respond to 14 questions including the categories of user data that is collected, whether it profiled customers based on usage and cross-border data flows.

WhatsApp did not respond to a request for comment but has previously said the update to its privacy policy did not affect the privacy of users’ messages with friends, family, and in groups.

WhatsApp has launched a media advertising campaign in India to calm worried users. The update to the privacy policy has also resulted in two legal petitions in Indian courts.

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