21:28 GMT24 February 2021
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    Facebook-owned instant messaging app WhatsApp found itself surrounded by controversies as it rolled out a mandatory privacy policy notification for users to either accept or delete their accounts. The update said WhatsApp will be sharing user data like device location and contact details of chats shared on its “Business” app with Facebook.

    The Indian government has reacted to WhatsApp’s recently-released privacy policy with a strongly-worded letter, addressed to Will Cathcart, the global CEO of the instant messaging app.

    "[...] The new policy of WhatsApp proposes to share the metadata of users' chat with business accounts with other Facebook companies. It would create a honeypot of information about users with Facebook group which can create security risks and vulnerabilities for users", Indian news channel NDTV's website reported on Tuesday, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

    Further, the letter raised concerns against the mandatory nature of the update that did not come with an “opting-out” feature.

    "Ministry further objects to the all-or-nothing approach of WhatsApp that forces users to accept the new service terms and privacy policies, without giving an option to the users to opt-out of this proposed change of integrating user data with other Facebook companies", NDTV quoted the letter written by India’s federal Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) as saying.

    The letter has reminded the Facebook-owned-app that India is its biggest market globally and that these new policies are “discriminatory” towards Indian users after reports from earlier last week claimed that WhatsApp was not asking European users to share their data. Over 400 million Indians use the app on a monthly basis.

    A few days ago, WhatsApp dismissed rumours and clarified that its policies on data-sharing remain unchanged for European users.

    Along with the letter, the Indian government has sent WhatsApp a list of 14 questions around its privacy and data security concerns.

    These questions ask WhatsApp to detail the exact categories of data that it collects from users in India, the permissions and user consent sought by the app, and how each of these would be used.

    The letter from the Indian government reached WhatsApp just a day after the Delhi High Court said it is users’ voluntary decision to use or not use the app. 

    The Delhi High Court’s reaction came in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed challenging WhatsApp’s privacy policy and accusing it of attempting to violate users’ right to privacy under the constitution.

    As of now, WhatsApp’s official response to the letter by the Indian government remains awaited.

    Meanwhile, the platform has not only pushed back the enforcement of its policy update by three months against the backdrop of negative global reactions, it has also released official clarifications on its webpage. 

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

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