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WhatsApp Directed to Withdraw New Privacy Policy by MeitY, Letter Shows

WhatsApp has been asked to withdraw its new privacy policy by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), as per a letter sent by the agency to the Facebook-owned instant messaging platform accessed by NDTV. MeitY believes that the changes to WhatsApp privacy policy and the manner of introducing the said changes undermines the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security, and user choice and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the letter showed.

The government has given seven days to WhatsApp to respond to the notice and if no satisfactory response is received, necessary steps in consonance with law will be taken, the letter detailed.

In a communication to WhatsApp on May 18, the Ministry has once again told the messaging platform to withdraw its privacy policy 2021, they said.

The Ministry, in its communication, has drawn attention of WhatsApp as to how its new privacy policy is a violation of several provisions of the existing Indian laws and rules.

In fulfilment of its sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the government will consider various options available to it under laws in India, the letter added.

The Ministry has also strongly taken up the issue of WhatsApp’s “discriminatory treatment” to Indian users vis-a-vis users in Europe.

It has stated that: “As you are doubtlessly aware, 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.”

It is pertinent to mention here that WhatsApp had faced severe backlash over user concerns that data was being shared with its parent company, Facebook.

The letter noted that WhatsApp had earlier claimed that it officially deferred its new privacy policy beyond May 15, 2021.

However, the Ministry in its communication has asserted that deferral of the privacy policy beyond May 15, does not absolve WhatsApp from respecting the values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users.

It has highlighted that the changes to the privacy policy and the manner of introducing the changes including by way of FAQs (frequently asked questions) undermines the values of privacy, data security and user choice.

The Ministry has also taken the same stand in the Delhi High Court, where this matter is sub-judice, the letter pointed out.

Update: WhatsApp spoke to Gadgets 360 and sent the following statement.

“We continue to engage with the government and we reaffirm what we said before  that this update does not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone.

Our goal is to provide information about new options we are building that people will have, to message a business on WhatsApp, in the future. While the majority of users who have received the new terms of service have accepted them, we appreciate some people haven’t had the chance to do so yet. No accounts were deleted on May 15 because of this update and no one in India lost functionality of WhatsApp either. We will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks. We’re grateful for the important role WhatsApp plays in people’s lives and we’ll take every opportunity to explain how we protect people’s personal messages and private information.”

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