India

India Mulls Approaching WhatsApp as Controversy Erupts over Separate Privacy Policy from Europe

In a recently rolled out privacy policy notification, instant messaging app WhatsApp said that it will be sharing user data like device location and contact details for chats shared on its “Business” app. In 2018, WhatsApp launched this new app dedicated to businesses so that merchants and buyers could connect easily online.

After almost five days of relentless controversies over its new privacy policy update, WhatsApp is now likely to hear from the Indian government for explanations regarding its data-collection practices, government sources told Sputnik on Thursday.

The government of India has stepped in to examine and evaluate the app’s recent mandatory privacy policy update – that left users with only two options – either accepting them or deleting their accounts. The development comes after WhatsApp has clarified that its policies on data-sharing remain unchanged for users in Europe.

​Internal discussions on  the subject have already begun, within India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) regarding WhatsApp’s data collection concerns as troubling for its over 400 million users in the country, sources familiar with the matter added.

It is also being speculated that MeitY could reach out to the Facebook-owned-app for a detailed explanation on the matter.

(FILES) This file photo taken on October 5, 2020 shows the logo of mobile messaging service WhatsApp on a tablet screen in Toulouse, southwestern France

While the government is deliberating on its line of action on the subject, tech experts in India are doing their part, busting myths concerning WhatsApp’s privacy policy controversy. 

“The good news is that most of the companies, including Facebook, are being transparent about its policies and WhatsApp does not read your conversations because it includes end-to-end encryption. All they’re tracing is technical and account information. Moving forward, the integration between Facebook and WhatsApp will only continue to increase, and users will need to decide what level of information sharing they’re comfortable with. Luckily there is a variety of alternative messaging platforms and currently users can decide for themselves what works best for them,” Anna Larkina, senior researcher at cyber security firm Kaspersky told Sputnik.

This week, WhatsApp went to significant lengths in a bid to relieve its users, especially after its downloads witnessed a plunge of 35 percent after the policy update notification. From recording two million downloads between 1-5 January, WhatsApp saw reduced download numbers of just 1.3 million new users between 6-10 January.

From releasing an official blog post detailing how the end-to-end encrypted app does not snoop on or store messages, call logs or media shared between users on private chats, to flashing reassuring advertisements on the front pages of popular Indian newspapers – the app is trying hard to maintain its market position. 

WhatsApp logo
/ Pixabay
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The users, however, are not overly convinced by WhatsApp’s clarifications, as it did not implement same changes in Europe.

Niamh Sweeney, Director of Policy for WhatsApp, Europe said “there are no changes to WhatsApp’s data-sharing practices in Europe arising from this update. It remains the case that WhatsApp does not share European Region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or ads”.

Users are rapidly moving to other messaging app alternatives like Telegram and Signal to keep their data as private as possible.

WhatsApp has said that it shares data with Facebook’s e-commerce services like Shops to personalise users’ shopping experience. 

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