19 May 2021
MeitY has given WhatsApp time till 25 May to respond to the new notice, failing which “all necessary steps in consonance with the law” could be taken against the platform.
“We have a sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens. The government will consider various options available under the law,” a senior IT ministry official said.
Earlier, in January this year, the ministry had written a letter to Will Cathcart, the global chief executive officer of WhatsApp, asking him to withdraw the latest privacy and policy update on the instant messaging platform.
In its letter, the IT ministry had pointed out that the privacy update enabled WhatsApp and other Facebook companies “to make invasive and precise inferences about users”.
Collection and sharing of sensitive data such as the time, frequency and duration of interactions, group names or payments and transaction data with Facebook companies will create an ecosystem where any distinction between WhatsApp and other companies of the Facebook group will cease to exist, the IT ministry had then said.
“This approach has the potential to infringe on core values of data privacy, user choice and autonomy of Indian users. 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 information security risk and vulnerabilities creating a potential honeypot of information,” the IT ministry said in the letter.
The IT ministry also once again took up the issue of discriminatory treatment to Indian WhatsApp users compared to those in Europe, sources said.
“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,” the new notice read.
“WhatsApp had issued an `accept-the-terms-or-leave-the-platform’ stance for users in India when the same did not apply to its European users, which betrayed a lack of respect for the rights and interests” of Indian users, the ministry had pointed out.
WhatsApp announced the 15 May deadline in January this year after users and privacy experts raised concerns over the new policy. The initial deadline to accept the new terms was 8 February.
With over 400 million users, India is one of the biggest markets for WhatsApp. As of July 2020, the company had more than 50 million WhatsApp Business users globally, of which over 15 million used the service in India every month.
“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,” reports quoted a WhatsApp spokesperson as saying