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India's Anti-Trust Watchdog Initiates Investigation Into WhatsApp's 'Exploitative' Privacy Policy

© AFP 2022 / SAJJAD HUSSAINAn advertisement from WhatsApp is seen in a newspaper at a stall in New Delhi on January 13, 2021
An advertisement from WhatsApp is seen in a newspaper at a stall in New Delhi on January 13, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.03.2021
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In early January, WhatsApp notified its users around the world that it will continue to share some user data like device location and contact details for chats exchanged on its "Business" app with Facebook. The app explained that it sought to personalise the buyer-seller experience.

Following severe public backlash, the Competition Commission of India (CCI), the country's anti-trust watchdog, on Thursday opened a probe into WhatsApp's "exploitative and exclusionary conduct… in the garb of this policy update".

The CCI will be compiling a report over its anti-trust investigation on the app's new privacy policy within 60 days.

A WhatsApp advertisement is seen on the front pages of newspapers at a stall in Mumbai, India, January 13, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.02.2021
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In January, WhatsApp, which boasts around 400 million users in India, stated that it was looking forward to "engaging with the CCI" after the Indian anti-trust watchdog first decided to check the potential impact of the policy on WhatsApp users in India.

Highlighting other concerns regarding WhatsApp's mandatory policy, the CCI noted aspects such as its "opacity, vagueness, open-endedness, and incomplete disclosures".

​"Users have not been provided with appropriate granular choice, neither up front nor in the fine print, to object to or opt-out of specific data sharing terms, which prima facie appear to be unfair and unreasonable for WhatsApp users", the CCI said in 21-page order on Thursday.

The app that claims to be used by two billion people worldwide has said that it does not share or store information such as call logs and message content as well as locations exchanged privately between users in their chats.

Over the past few months, WhatsApp has resorted to various methods to assure people that their private chats are end-to-end encrypted. In India, not only did WhatsApp roll out official status updates regarding the privacy policy on its app, it also took out front page spots in leading Indian newspapers to flash advertisements that claimed user privacy matters most to the app.

A recent survey conducted by the Indian market research firm Better World–BM Nxt with over 500 participants, however, revealed that 82 percent of WhatsApp users in the country are against the app's privacy policy.

WhatsApp has repeatedly been flashing reminders on its app asking users to either accept the policy by 15 May, or delete their accounts.

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