03:12 GMT24 January 2021
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    The Facebook-owned instant messaging platform WhatsApp has witnessed rapid adoption worldwide in recent years and garnered millions of users worldwide, after its launch in 2009. The mobile and web app lets users around the world connect with each other via messaging as well as voice and video calls, free of cost.

    Earlier this week, WhatsApp rolled out a new policy update, informing users on how the company processes user data, how businesses can use Facebook-hosted services to store and manage their chats, and how the company partners with Facebook to offer integrations across its products, among other developments. 

    ​The mandatory update requires users to either accept the new terms and privacy policy to continue using the app or delete their accounts – an ultimatum so sharp that it has created ripples of anxiety among users, concerning WhatsApp’s data collection practices.

    Jolted in worry, netizens in India have begun to encourage each other to download another popular end-to-end encrypted messaging service,  Telegram, in a bid to move away from WhatsApp’s new policies.

    ​Expert Clarifies Myths

    Sputnik reached out to Indian policy think tank “The Dialogue” to understand whether people’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to the app’s new policy updates was justifiable.

    “We need to understand that this has been a continuing cycle and WhatsApp has simply come forward and provided greater transparency to users,” said Kazim Rizvi, the Founder and Director of The Dialogue.

    Rizvi noted three main points about the new policy updates; first, the messaging app clarified how it stores and processes metadata (phone number, location) that is useful for the functionality of the app and is also critical for assisting law enforcement agencies in investigations.

    Second, the encryption “has not been tinkered with” and that means for all types of communications - personal or business. The chats on WhatsApp will remain encrypted using the underlying technology and signal protocol. 

    And third, the new policy comes with clarifications on the use of WhatsApp for businesses that have been done to enhance transparency on how data will be processed.

    “Here, what they have clarified is that if a user is on WhatsApp application processing interface (API) for businesses, and is also using a Facebook cloud infrastructure to host their chats, in such cases only, the messages may be shared with Facebook in order to connect businesses with their customers. Such is the nature of online business models that certain elements of business data may be required to increase consumer base,” the policy researcher said, clearing the air concerning WhatsApp’s “data-collection” rules.

    While shedding light on WhatsApp’s new policies, Rizvi has definitely noted that there exists legitimate concerns around all apps regarding how exactly are they aggregating and securing user data.

    “To this end, it is crucial that our Parliament appoints an independent Data Protection Authority which can assess the implementation of such policies and ensure that user privacy is protected at all times and uphold the principles of data minimisation and purpose limitation,” the think tank researcher emphasised.

    On its privacy policy web page, WhatsApp revealed that when a user forwards media within a message, “we store that media temporarily in encrypted form on our servers to aid in more efficient delivery of additional forwards”.

    In addition to this, the messaging app has also detailed how it processes ‘Device and Connection Information’ and ‘Location Information’.

    ​Apart from India, the policy update notifications have been rolled out in other countries such as the US and the UK among others as well.

     

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