Info-tech

Rescind new privacy policy: Centre pings WhatsApp

S Ronendra Singh New Delhi | Updated on January 19, 2021

India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw its latest terms of service and privacy policy, saying the proposed consolidation of sensitive information exposes its citizens to security risks.

The company should respect the privacy of Indian users’ information and data security, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said in a letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart.

The letter, seen by BusinessLine, also has a detailed questionnaire seeking from WhatsApp the details of its data-sharing protocols and business practices.

The messaging app has notified users that it will collect metadata from their chats with business accounts and share them with other Facebook companies.

This, the letter said, will mean collection of vast amounts of highly invasive and granular. Creating a ‘honeypot of information about users’ is dangerous, it added.

“With this, any meaningful distinction between WhatsApp and Facebook companies will cease to exist. 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 security risks and vulnerabilities,” it wrote.

The letter further said an integration of data between WhatsApp and other Facebook companies does not leave users with too many options.

All-or-nothing approach

This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaningful choice from Indian users, it added. It leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain that may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and security, the letter noted.

MeitY also said Parliament is already examining the Personal Data Protection Bill. Since it is seized of the issue, making such a momentous change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse, it observed.

MeitY has raised strong objections to the alleged differential treatment by WhatsApp to its users in India and the EU, saying it shows lack of respect for the rights of Indian citizens, who form one of the largest user bases for the messaging app.

The letter queried WhatsApp on the exact categories of data it collects from users. It has asked if WhatsApp profiles Indian users; details of the difference between its privacy policies in other countries and India; and details of its policies on data security, information security, cyber security, privacy and encryption.

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Published on January 19, 2021
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