India Asks WhatsApp to Withdraw Privacy Policy Update

The country’s technology ministry cited concerns that Indian users’ choice was being taken away in a “discriminatory” manner.

India’s technology ministry has publicly called on the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp to withdraw previously announced alterations to its privacy policy.

In an email to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart dated 18 January, the ministry said the revised terms of the app’s privacy agreement “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens”.

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

WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy, which gained widespread media attention earlier this month, clarified that its users’ data could be shared with parent company Facebook. Shared data could include phone numbers, IP addresses, device locations and several other pieces of identifying information.

However, UK and EU users – who are covered by GDPR – will not have their data transferred to Facebook, which is US-based.

This Europe-exclusive protection was also raised in the technology ministry’s letter. “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 wrote.

India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, with 400 million users, and its vocal criticism of the platform’s new policy played a role in its decision to delay the policy launch to May from February.

In 2020, Facebook invested $5.7 billion in the digital unit of Indian conglomerate Reliance in a move largely aimed at drawing India’s traditional shop owners to use digital payments through WhatsApp. The platform has further plans to expand in the country’s digital payments space, including by selling health insurance via partners.

“We wish to reinforce that this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said on Tuesday. “Our aim is to provide transparency and new options available to engage with businesses so they can serve their customers and grow.”

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