India needs stricter action as WhatsApp privacy policy goes live: Experts

New Delhi: With the controversial WhatsApp privacy policy coming into effect from Saturday for its over 2 billion users including more than 400 million in India, industry experts emphasised that the government must implement stricter data privacy rules and restrain the Facebook-owned app as was done while banning Chinese apps to protect the sovereignty of the country.

Giving an interim solace for those who do not accept the new policy, WhatsApp has said that its users will not immediately lose their accounts or face curtailed functionalities on the platform on May 15, but they will have to eventually go through limited functions if they fail to accept the new norms in the due course of time.

On Thursday, a senior Ministry of Electronics and IT official said during an Assocham event that the government is pro-actively looking at a best possible action over the new WhatsApp privacy policy.

MeitY Special Secretary and Financial Advisor Jyoti Arora stated that the ministry is aware about the fact that Germany has banned the privacy policy of WhatsApp.

“There is no judicial order in favour of WhatsApp. In view of the unlawful nature of this privacy policy, the government should restrain WhatsApp as was done while banning Chinese apps to protect sovereignty of India,” said Advocate Virag Gupta, who is arguing K.N. Govindacharya’s matter before the Delhi High Court for disclosure of details of designated officers of social media companies.

WhatsApp has said that after giving everyone time to review the privacy policy from May 15, after a period of several weeks, the reminder people receive will eventually become persistent.

After persistent reminders, the users will encounter limited functionality on WhatsApp until they accept the updates.

The users won’t be able to access chat list. After a few weeks of limited functionality, they won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to their phones.

Also Read: WhatsApp privacy policy update: No accounts will be deleted; But functionality will be limited after May 15 deadline

“WhatsApp’s new terms requiring users to accept them by a cut-off date to continue to avail full functionality has brought click wrap contracts and their intended manner of operation under the glare. Click wrap contracts require a user to click ‘yes’ or ‘ok’ to the terms, which constitutes legal consent for availing a service,” said Raj Ramachandran, Partner, J Sagar Associates.

Given the substantial user base and the apparent network effect, it literally leaves little room for users to make a choice.

“Germany has temporarily banned the update raising privacy concerns and EU may also looking into it closely. It is time for India too to implement effective data privacy rules, which has been pending for quite some time now,” Ramachandran said in a statement.

In March this year, MeitY filed an affidavit that that new privacy policy of WhatsApp violates the Information Technology Rules of 2011.

“In January 2021, the ministry wrote a letter to WhatsApp exposing key objection of non-voluntary nature of the new privacy policy. The government also warned WhatsApp by quoting a Supreme Court of India judgment on privacy delivered in 2017,” informed Gupta.

It also said that data exchange between Facebook and WhatsApp is untenable because data collected from one service cannot be used in another service.

“Instead of justifying its privacy policy, WhatsApp in its affidavit has exposed many other Internet-based applications and websites with similar policies and that some even collect more data. In light of this fact, the government must ensure physical presence of WhatsApp and other foreign Apps in India,” Gupta reiterated.

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