The Ministry of Electronics and IT shot off a letter to WhatsApp on May 18 on the issue, sources said and warned that necessary steps in accordance with the law will be taken if a satisfactory response was not received within seven days.
The ministry has taken a strong position on the matter and made it clear that it is not just problematic but also “irresponsible” for the messaging platform to leverage its position to impose “unfair” terms and conditions on Indian users, when many depend on WhatsApp to communicate in everyday life, according to the sources.
When contacted, a WhatsApp spokesperson said the company continues to engage with the government.
“We reaffirm what we said before that this update does not impact the privacy of personal messages for anyone… we’ll take every opportunity to explain how we protect people’s personal messages and private information,” the spokesperson added.
In fulfilment of its sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the government will consider various options available to it under laws in India, the sources at the ministry said.
WhatsApp – which has 53 crore users in India as per government data – had faced severe backlash over user concerns that data was being shared with parent company Facebook.
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.
“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-a-vis users in Europe,” as per the communication.
The WhatsApp spokesperson, in a statement, said the company’s goal is to provide information about new options it is building that people will have – to message a business on WhatsApp – 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 either,” the spokesperson added.
The spokesperson also said WhatsApp will follow up with reminders to people over the next several weeks.
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.
According to WhatsApp, the key updates include more information about its service and how it processes user data; how businesses can use Facebook hosted services to store and manage their WhatsApp chats; and how WhatsApp partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the company products.
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.
“It remains to be seen how the directive will be responded to within the prescribed timeline, given the diametrically opposite position being taken by both sides on the revised policy and its compliance with applicable laws. The option apparently given to users in other jurisdictions to opt-out of the revised policy will also need to be explained,” Ramachandran said.
A convincing response to implement the revised policy in line with other jurisdictions could augur well to help resolve the matter, he added.
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