Indian IT Ministry Asks WhatsApp to Withdraw Privacy Policy Change

By Bill Toulas / January 19, 2021

WhatsApp has decided to give people more time to understand what the planned policy changes will bring for them, so they’re postponing the shift until May 15, 2021. However, this only kicks the can further down the road, not addressing the most concerning aspects of the user data collection and sharing parts added to the new policy. Thus, users are still worried about what’s to come, and now governments are joining in the expression of these concerns, calling WhatsApp to just withdraw the privacy policy change altogether.

India’s IT Ministry has sent an official letter to the head of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, asking the man to reconsider the proposed changes, which “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens.” Additionally, the letter seeks clarifications about why the IM project has distinguished between EU-based users and the rest of the world, leaving India-based users with no choice but to comply or get ousted from the platform.

Furthermore, the letter writes that “This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaningful choice from Indian users. This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security.”

In addition to the above, Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s IT and Law Minister, has warned Facebook, WhatsApp, and any other digital platform that they are free to conduct business in India as long as they respect the rights of the people of the country.

What is interesting here is the fact that WhatsApp isn’t technically unique nor superior to all other IM applications that offer end-to-end-encrypted communications. Thus, seeing prominent politicians trying to convince the leaders of popular software projects to change course seems counter-intuitive.

Governments could instead warn their citizens about the privacy risks, propose trustworthy alternatives, or even develop them locally by forking open-source projects. Convincing people to change IM client isn’t straightforward, of course, but WhatsApp is already bleeding right now.

India is currently preparing its own “Personal Data Protection Bill” (PDPB), which will be comparable and, in some points, even stricter than the GDPR. If the bill was already passed as an Act, WhatsApp would not be able to enforce the new policy in India at this time.

For this reason, India’s political persons are leery about the timing chosen by Facebook and WhatsApp. After all, India is one of the world’s largest user pools, and tech companies consider everything when deciding on changes.

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