WhatsApp’s new privacy terms give it the right to share user data, including location, phone number, contacts list and usage pattern, with Facebook and its units such as Instagram and Messenger. The move has been questioned by privacy advocates, entrepreneurs such as Tesla founder Elon Musk, and certain government agencies abroad, citing Facebook’s poor track record in handling user data.
Sources said the government’s concern stems from a variety of factors, including the ‘regulatory vacuum’ in the data protection space in India in the absence of a data protection law in the country. A bill for a data law is in the Parliament, but a law may be sometime away.
“Also, the privacy update sought by WhatsApp in user agreement in European Union is seen as lenient while in India it is wide-ranging and may have terms that may potentially harm user privacy,” the official source said.
A detailed questionnaire sent to WhatsApp did not get any response.
The government has already had many run-ins with WhatsApp and Facebook over several matters, including on the Cambridge Analytica data leak matter (where a CBI inquiry is on) and regarding the spate of lynching incidents that were blamed on the spread of fake messaging on WhatsApp. The messenger at that time had downright refused to pay heed to the government’s request to help disclose/identify the source of fake, inflammatory messages, saying its user chats are fully encrypted.
The current issue is being discussed at the highest level in the IT Ministry, and any action or step on the matter will be taken only after that.
The government may also seek certain explanations from WhatsApp regarding the proposed changes, though the company did not answer TOI’s queries to this effect.