India asks WhatsApp to withdraw new privacy policy, answer 14 questions

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WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has previously said that its new privacy policy update does not affect the privacy of users' messages with friends, family and in groups. Also, the government asked the company to give details of the permissions and user consent that it seeks from users, and thereafter provide utility of each of these with respect to the functioning and specific service provided.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked WhatsApp to clarify issues related to its "privacy and data transfer and sharing policies, and general business practices" within seven days. "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.

MeitY has raised strong objections to the alleged differential treatment by WhatsApp to its users in India and the European Union, 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 changes "enable WhatsApp, and other Facebook companies, to make invasive and precise inferences about users which may not be reasonably foreseen or expected by users in the ordinary course of assessing these services, the ministry said". WhatsApp has been asked by MeitY to withdraw changes in India, which is among its biggest markets worldwide, and to "reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice and data security".

The ministry has sought details about exact categories of data that WhatsApp collects from Indian users.

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Privacy advocates have questioned the move citing Facebook's track record in handling user data, with many suggesting users to migrate to platforms such as Telegram and Signal. Indian IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has been tweeting against the new policy changes today saying, "Be it WhatsApp, be it Facebook, be it any digital platform".

As a refresher, the new policy was announced a couple of weeks and it stated that certain data would be shared with Facebook. The government is particularly displeased with two others measures that have been proposed by WhatsApp as part of the upgrade, the first being a forced adoption plan for users to either accept the update or be ready to be booted out of the ubiquitous platform, the sources said.

The government also pointed out how Indian users are being subjected to differential, discriminatory treatment when compared to European counterparts by being allowed less choice. "Whatever you share, it stays between you", it said, reiterating that users' personal messages were protected by end-to-end encryption.

"By not providing Indian users with the ability to opt-out of this data sharing with other Facebook companies, WhatsApp is treating users with an "all-or-nothing" approach", the ministry said.

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