Parliamentary Panel raises concerns about WhatsApp policy update

WhatsApp had on January 16 delayed the introduction of the new privacy policy to May 15 after user backlash over sharing of user data and information with the parent company, Facebook Inc.

Members also flagged the issue of proposed changes to the privacy policy of WhatsApp and highlighted the concerns of Indian citizens.

The company’s representatives told the committee that the proposed changes are aimed at bringing in more transparency and the chat and call services on the platform still remain end-to-end encrypted.

Some other members who attended the meeting maintained that the company was “evasive” in its reply on the issue of how it can bring in changes which are not conducive for Indian users. “They had no reply,” said a member, according to PTI.

After the meeting, a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement, “We wish to thank the Honorable Parliamentary Committee for giving us an opportunity to appear before them and provide our views. We look forward to assisting the Hon’ble Committee in future as well.”

Earlier this week, MeitY had sent a strongly-worded letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart, the proposed changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, without giving users an option to opt-out, “raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens”.

WhatsApp had earlier this month begun asking its 2 billion users worldwide to accept an update of its privacy policy if they want to keep using the popular messaging app. The new terms caused an outcry among technology experts, privacy advocates and users and triggered a wave of defections to rival services such as Signal and Telegram.

The updated policy allows the company to share data collected from WhatsApp users with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram, regardless of owning any accounts or profiles there. Some businesses, as per the new policy, were to use Facebook-owned servers to store messages.

This triggered an outcry regardless of WhatsApp’s assertion that all private messages between friends and family members remain end-to-end encrypted.