WhatsApp lands in hot water in India over privacy policy changes

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Image: AP Photo/Patrick Sison

WhatsApp’s change of heart on how it handles its users’ data isn’t impressing many.

India’s Delhi High Court has reached out to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the two top bodies that govern telecommunication issues in the country, seeking their take on the matter.

A bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra issued the notice after two WhatsApp users alleged that the change in the privacy policy contradicts WhatsApp’s original promise, and it would result in “endangering” privacy of millions of users.

The instant messaging and voice calling client announced last week that it will begin sharing some of its users’ data – such as phone number – with its parent company Facebook. The service, used by over one billion worldwide users every month and over 100 million users in India, will also share some analytical data with Facebook to “improve” users’ experience on the social network.

“The privacy policy is in stark contrast to the Privacy Policy existing from July 7, 2012. In its first revised modification on August 25, 2016, Respondents (WhatsApp, Facebook Inc. and Facebook India Online Pvt Ltd) have introduced this policy which severely compromises the rights of its users and makes the privacy rights of users completely vulnerable,” the plead reads.

DoT and TRAI have been asked to respond to the notice by Sept. 14.

DoT and TRAI have been asked to respond to the notice by Sept. 14. Considering how common it has become for companies to use their customers’ data to work on the experience of users and for advertising purposes, it is unlikely that WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes will come under scrutiny by the government bodies. 

Regardless, the change in WhatsApp’s terms and privacy policy has been criticized by many. Earlier this week, privacy groups in the United States such as Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy complained to the Federal Trade Commission, accusing WhatsApp of reneging on its previous promise that user data collected would not be used or disclosed for marketing purposes.

Several people have begun trolling Jan Koum, CEO and co-founder of WhatsApp, on social media websites. In 2011, Koum quoted an exchange from Fight Club movie to express what appears to be his take on advertising.

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