Union Govt Asks WhatsApp to Halt Its Controversial Privacy Policy Update Yet Again

Union Govt Asks WhatsApp to Halt Its Controversial Privacy Policy Update Yet Again

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has asked Facebook-owned instant messaging application, WhatsApp, to withdraw the implementation of its controversial privacy policy update that came into effect on May 15. 

This is the second time such a request has been made by the Union Government since the policy change was first announced by WhatsApp in December last year. The public outrage coupled with the government’s stance led WhatsApp to defer the new policy change until May 15.  

The MeitY, in an official communication channel with WhatsApp, said that the new policy changes undermine the “sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice and harms (sic) the rights and interests of Indian citizens.”

MeitY has now given WhatsApp seven days to respond to their request, adding “if no satisfactory response is received, necessary steps in con­sonance with law will be taken.” It’s worth noting that the matter is also sub judice at the Delhi High Court. 

While the Union Government requested WhatsApp to withdraw its policy change in January this year, WhatsApp only postponed the implementation of the new changes and didn’t particularly withdraw the same.

In a new affidavit filed with the Delhi High Court on Friday, May 14, WhatsApp said that the privacy policy changes will not affect the safety of personal messages of the app’s users. 

WhatsApp also pointed out that private companies such as Google, Microsoft, Zoom, Zomato, Republic World, Ola Cabs, Truecaller, Big Basket, Koo, and others also follow a similar practice while public sector firms such as Aarogya Setu, BHIM, Air India, Sandes, Government e-Marketplace (GeM), Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) have similar policies in place. 

ReadWhat Should You Expect As WhatsApp’s Controversial Policy Change Comes Into Effect On May 15?

A WhatsApp spokesperson elaborated, “We continue to engage with the government and we reaffirm what we said before. 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 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. We will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks,” the company added.

What’s crucial is that Germany announced a ban on the same update due to privacy concerns, and WhatsApp hasn’t enforced it there. MeitY’s latest communication with WhatsApp highlights this aspect, also pointing out the discrimination in the handling of the policy change in the two countries. 

“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 MeitY said. 

Legal experts say that WhatsApp can be prosecuted under some provisions of the Information Technology Act, although it’s unclear whether the Central Government will take this step. 

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