WhatsApp Won’t Limit Functionality for Users Till Data Protection Law Comes into Force

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WhatsApp on Monday said it will not limit the functionality for users not agreeing to its new privacy policy but will continue to remind users about the update, and maintain this approach till the forthcoming data protection law comes into effect. Days after the government directed the messaging platform to withdraw its new privacy policy, a WhatsApp spokesperson said the company has responded to the letter and has assured that the privacy of users remains the highest priority for the Facebook-owned entity.

The spokesperson, in an emailed statement, said the company will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks. Instead, we will continue to remind users from time to time about the update…We hope this approach reinforces the choice that all users have whether or not they want to interact with a business. We will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming PDP (Personal Data Protection) law comes into effect, the spokesperson added.

The spokesperson reiterated that the recent update does not change the privacy of people’s personal messages. Its purpose is to provide additional information about how people can interact with businesses if they choose to do so, the spokesperson added.

On May 18, the government had ordered WhatsApp to withdraw its controversial privacy policy update, saying the changes undermine the sacrosanct values of privacy, data security and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens. According to sources, WhatsApp had been warned that necessary steps in accordance with the law will be taken if a satisfactory response was not received within seven days.

A person privy to the development said WhatsApp had responded to the government’s letter on May 22. In its letter, the IT Ministry had drawn attention to WhatsApp as to how its new privacy policy was a violation of several provisions of the existing Indian laws and rules. A raging debate had ensued earlier this year after WhatsApp said it will update its terms of service and privacy policy around how it processes user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the social media giant’s products.

WhatsApp — which has 53 crore users in India as per the government data — had faced severe backlash over user concerns that data was being shared with parent company, Facebook. Last week, WhatsApp had told the Delhi High Court that while its new privacy policy has come into effect from May 15, it would not start deleting accounts of those users who have not accepted it and would try to encourage them to get on board.

The platform had said there was no universal or uniform time limit after which it will start to delete accounts as each user would be dealt with on a case-to-case basis. In its May 18 communication to WhatsApp, the ministry had told the messaging platform to withdraw its privacy policy 2021 and also flagged WhatsApp’s ‘discriminatory treatment’ of Indian users vis-a-vis users in Europe.

It has highlighted that the changes to the privacy policy and the manner of introducing the changes including by way of FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) undermine the values of privacy, data security, and user choice. In January this year, WhatsApp had informed users about the changes in its terms of service and public policy through an in-app notification. Users were initially given time till February 8 to agree to the new terms in order to continue using the platform.

WhatsApp has insisted that the acceptance of the privacy policy update does not expand its ability to share user data with Facebook. However, widespread criticism over WhatsApp’s alleged sharing of user information with Facebook had forced the messaging platform to postpone the February deadline to May 15.

WhatsApp, in the past, has said it is open to answering any questions from the government on privacy and that it will continue to explain to users that their messages are end-to-end encrypted.

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