WhatsApp had announced the changes in January and had asked users to agree to the terms before February 8, 2021, to continue the usage of their services.(HT Photo)
WhatsApp had announced the changes in January and had asked users to agree to the terms before February 8, 2021, to continue the usage of their services.(HT Photo)

Grave concerns, discriminatory towards Indians: What Centre said in its letter to WhatsApp

From asking WhatsApp to withdraw their proposed changes to a long questionnaire, here is what the government said in its letter.
By hindustantimes.com | Written by Srivatsan K C
PUBLISHED ON JAN 19, 2021 07:00 PM IST

The Centre has written to WhatsApp's chief executive officer Will Cathcart asking the company to withdraw the latest changes announced to the terms of service and privacy policy of the messaging application. The company had announced the changes in January and had asked users to agree to the terms before February 8, 2021, to continue the usage of their services.

WhatsApp has said that they would share the metadata of the chats of business accounts with other Facebook-owned companies after the new policy. However, the ministry of electronics and information technology (MEITY) had flagged serious information security concerns about the new update.

Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said his ministry has been working on the matter. “You are free to do business in India but do it in a manner without impinging upon the rights of Indians who operate there,” he said, according to a news report by PTI.

From asking WhatsApp to withdraw their proposed changes to a long questionnaire, here is what the government said in its letter:

1. All or nothing - The government has slammed WhatsApp’s all or nothing approach, pointing out that the users couldn’t opt out of these changes by choice. The new changes to the privacy policy “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens," the government wrote in the letter.

2. Withdraw the changes - MEITY has written: “any unilateral changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy would not be fair and acceptable” calling the company to reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice and data security and withdraw the changes.

Also read: Don’t use WhatsApp if concerned about data says Delhi HC

3. Questionnaire - The government has asked WhatsApp to share details regarding services provided, categories of data collected and permissions and consents sought by it in India. Also, complete technical architecture and server hosting data of Indian users along with policy on data and information security, privacy and encryption have also been asked to share.

4. Highly invasive - The government has written that highly invasive and granular metadata of Indian users could be collected by WhatsApp after the new update. It had also asked the company to explain if profiling of Indian users on the basis of their usage is being done.

5. Discriminatory in nature - "This approach has the potential to infringe on core values of data privacy, user choice and autonomy of Indian users," the government said. With 400 million users, changes would affect a significant population of the country. The changes do not apply to users in the EU and it “shows lack of respect for the rights and interests of Indian citizens.”

Also read: Facebook, Twitter reps to appear before IT parliamentary panel

6. Differences cease to exist - "The collection and onward sharing with Facebook companies, of sensitive personal data of individuals portends an ecosystem where any meaningful distinction between companies and WhatsApp will cease to exist," it said.

7. Data protection law - A joint committee of Parliament is discussing its own personal data protection bill and “a momentous change for its [WhatsApp’s] Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse,” MEITY has said in the letter.

(With agency inputs)

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