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WhatsApp privacy policy: Should you stay or should you go

Like Whatsapp, Facebook may change its terms and conditions at any point in time, so one should be ready for that, experts warn.

By Sambhav Sharma

With concerns growing over the new privacy policy of WhatsApp kicking in from February 8, the news that the Government of India has begun examining the said policy is possibly some balm for the worried lot. The news comes even as WhatsApp unleashed full-page ads across India’s major newspapers on Wednesday, clarifying what has changed in its privacy policy. The ads came after it was popularly understood that WhatsApp will be sharing more user data with its parent company, Facebook. In the advertisement, Whatsapp claimed respect for privacy is coded into its DNA (:)). But it can’t be denied that the new privacy policy has left millions of users in India extremely disconcerted.

Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal has a startling fact: That what WhatsApp has said in the advertisements is not written in its privacy policy yet. The instant change in WhatsApp policy is the warning signal for countries like India where data protection takes the backseat.

Duggal said it is a planned step by Facebook-Whatsapp as they are aware of the policy vacuum in India and the government is not strictly implementing the current law including the Information Technology  Act. There is no law on personal data protection so far, WhatsApp wants to utilise this loophole, he added. WhatsApp wants all your data and wants to monetise it, Duggal said.

Like WhatsApp, Facebook may change its terms and conditions at any point in time, so one should be prepared for that also, he added.

Once you sign up to the new privacy policy, the entire data would go to US-based server under US laws and as per US laws, and once you give consent you cannot challenge it later. It is a kind of modern data warfare, Duggal said.

After the growing privacy worries with WhatsApp, more and more people have switched to rivals Telegram and Signal. Once the number of downloads for Telegram and Signal went through the roof, only then WhatsApp clarify that the policy changes had nothing to do with messaging friends and family. Neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see your private messages or hear your calls, it said. Personal messages are protected by end-to-end encryption and will continue to be so, WhatsApp clarified.

Cyberlaw expert and Supreme Court lawyer Virag Gupta calls the WhatsApp imposition an act of digital imperialism and it is high time to fix accountability of such platforms, who are getting the biggest digital market in India. This is not just the question of privacy or users but it is the question of the system which is extremely dependent on Facebook and WhatsApp, he added. The government ought to impose taxes on the bulk transfer of data by Facebook group companies. There is no tax on data transfer as of now and no law to fix the accountability of these companies, Gupta added.  

Also Read: Supreme Court committee loses farmer face, wait still on for talks, settlement

Even if WhatsApp tries to allay privacy concerns, this step of its has rung the alarm bells. The government needs to come up with new regulations and the need is for strong data protection norms in India so that the data of millions of users could be saved from misuse. On Thursday, a plea has been filed in the Delhi High Court asking the Court to tell the Government of India to not let WhatsApp share user data with Facebook or others under the powers vested in it as per the Information Technology Act. Wait on signing up to the new policy, let see how this ends!

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