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WhatsApp privacy policy debate: Indian government monitoring developments, may step in soon

In order to protect citizens' user data, strong legislation like the 2019 Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill is necessary - but is yet to be passed by Parliament.

Users will be allowed to use the same WhatsApp accounts on four different devices at the same time.
Users will be allowed to use the same WhatsApp accounts on four different devices at the same time. (Pixabay)

Even as the privacy debate around WhatsApp rages on, the government of India might finally be stepping in, as per reports. WhatsApp's recent change in privacy policy has users cornered into either accepting it or giving up the messaging app next month when the policy comes into play. 

According to the Times of India report, official sources had indicated the government has been “collecting details” and monitoring the developments around the changes to the policy which would give Facebook additional data (from user’s interactions with businesses on WhatsApp) in light of potential privacy violations. 

We’ve previously reported that WhatsApp has already begun a massive PR campaign to steer the conversation in its favour with full-page newspaper ads as people have started flocking to alternatives like Signal and Telegram.

Also read: WhatsApp tries to calm privacy concerns with full-page ads in newspapers

According to the report, the lack of a regulatory framework backed by a strong data protection law in the country is one of the reasons why the government is concerned. There is also a question of why WhatsApp's privacy policy is lenient towards users in the European Union but has “wide-ranging terms” in India with the potential to harm user privacy. 

In order to protect citizens' user data, strong legislation like the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill of 2019 is necessary - but is yet to be passed by Parliament. Europe has the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in place which is a stringent law the protects its citizen's data and privacy. 

Livemint had reported on Wednesday that privacy advocates were demanding that the PDP Bill be modified to include provisions to shield citizens from ‘arbitrary’ modifications to terms of service by intermediaries such as the current WhatsApp privacy policy update. A recent Mint report had stated that the joint-parliamentary committee that is currently studying the Bill could expand its ambit to include sensitive non-personal data as well.

Read more: Ready to quit WhatsApp? Here are top 6 reasons why you should download Signal instead

This is not the first time WhatsApp has begun sharing user data with Facebook - in fact, this began in 2016. However, back then WhatsApp had allowed its existing users to opt-out of the sharing, while new users would automaticaly be opted in. With the new policy that takes effect on February 8, users will have no choice in the matter and data will compulsorily be shared with Facebook.

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