The WhatsApp Privacy Policy Dispute

As Centre threatens legal action against WhatsApp for its new privacy policy, people are looking at alternatives

The WhatsApp Privacy Policy Dispute
The WhatsApp Privacy Policy Dispute
Titlee Sen - 24 May 2021

If you want to keep using WhatsApp, you’ll have to accept some significant updates to its privacy policy and terms of service. This was first announced earlier this year, but was held back following customer backlash. WhatsApp, which is operated by Facebook, explains how the service manages data and how it works with the wider Facebook network to enable integrations across various platforms, including Instagram and Facebook Messenger. It claims it gathers customer information to deliver services and personalises user experience.

Many people assumed that when WhatsApp announced its updated privacy policy in January, it would allow the firm to see users’ private messages and exchange them with its parent company, Facebook Inc. Users were given an ultimatum to implement the new policy by February 8, or they would lose access to the service.

Later, the company clarified that the new policy would not impact users’ private messages and postponed the change till May 15, and promised to include more details. WhatsApp also clarified that if users don’t approve the revised privacy policies by May 15, their accounts will not be deleted, and they have kept their word so far. However, it also seems that users will have to embrace the new privacy policy at some stage, especially if they want to keep using all features.

What is the Privacy Policy?

WhatsApp has reaffirmed that the messaging app is end-to-end encrypted and that it has no access to private messages or locations. Private messages and other details are not shared with Facebook by the organisation. However, the latest update would allow WhatsApp to monetise some of the business conversations it hosts on the social network.

WhatsApp made it clear the knowledge is shared with other Facebook businesses. Your cell phone number and username are collected to build and run a WhatsApp account, as well as your location information at all times, IP addresses, and other information such as phone number area codes and businesses.

What were the actions taken by Government of India?

Since January 2021, the IT Ministry has been in contact with WhatsApp about the new privacy policy. Even as Parliament was debating the Personal Data Protection Bill, the Ministry had sent its first correspondence on the subject to Will Cathcart, the global CEO of WhatsApp. In a letter to WhatsApp in January, the Government responded, requesting WhatsApp to remove its policy, saying it may be in breach of the country’s forthcoming data security laws.

The government said the strategy was against the country’s IT rules and asked the Delhi high court to stop the app from enforcing it. In March, Competition Commission of India (CCI) agreed to take cognisance of the case, which WhatsApp attempted to block.

This is the first time the Ministry has threatened WhatsApp with legal action if not responded by May 25, and has stated that it will explore all legal avenues available to secure Indian citizens’ sovereign rights.

What are the alternatives for India?

According to privacy advocates and legal analysts, WhatsApp is expected to find it tough to drive forward the next privacy policy overhaul, given two regulatory alerts and at least two court cases.

Though it has until May 25 to clarify why it wants to push the update, WhatsApp may have to explain to the government why it wants to do so before India passes the Personal Data Privacy Bill.

Meanwhile, apps like Signal and Telegram have grown in popularity. Since January, both apps, which have end-to-end encrypted applications, have been downloaded millions of times.

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