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WhatsApp adamant on rolling out controversial data policy for Indian users

WhatsApp is adamant on rolling out its controversial new data sharing policy for Indian users from May 15 (IANS)

WhatsApp is pushing ahead with its controversial new privacy policy for Indian users with a reminder on Sunday that it would come into effect from May 15. Users have been asked to accept the new terms, which allow WhatsApp to share more user data with its parent company Facebook and its group firms, or they will not be allowed to use the app.

Scores of WhatsApp users took to Twitter  to share screenshots of notifications from Facebook’s instant messaging service reminding them to accept the new policy.

The policy which was first announced in January had triggered an outrage and millions of users switched to rival apps such as Signal and Telegram. This had forced WhatsApp to delay the launch of the new policy launch to May and to clarify the update was focused on allowing users to message with businesses and would not affect personal conversations.

Brushing aside govt concerns

In India, which has the largest number WhatsApp users, serious objections were also raised over the issue as it was considered discriminatory since the new policy is not applicable to the European Union which has more stringent privacy laws in place.

The ministry of electronics and information technology had asked WhatsApp to withdraw the proposed changes as they were “unilateral, unfair and unacceptable.”  It also said the changes raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens."

Recently the Supreme Court directed WhatsApp to give an undertaking that private data of users was not being shared with a third party. The court had curtly told the messaging platform that people valued their privacy more than money.

Facebook executives were also questioned by a parliamentary committee on the need for the changes.

An official of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had said earlier that WhatsApp had not formally informed the government whether it will go ahead with the privacy policy or not. “The ministry would be looking into the matter,” he added.

Users’ data that will now be shared with Facebook include account registration information (such as your phone number), transaction data, service-related information, and information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using the service.

Other information that will be shared also includes mobile device information and your IP address.

Ad blitz coming?

Sumit Bhatia, a cybersecurity expert and director of communications and knowledge mobilization with Ryerson University's Cybersecure Catalyst, said in an interview “There’s no indication that WhatsApp will have advertising, but it certainly means that the information that Facebook collects from WhatsApp will lead further into a more sophisticated type of advertising on other Facebook platforms,” he said.

According to Carmi Levy, a tech expert and director at Info-Tech Research Group, however, it is very likely that eventually ads will appear on WhatsApp.

“WhatsApp will eventually be overrun with ads in much the same way as Facebook and Instagram. It will become increasingly algorithmically driven. What you see will be not so much on who you connect with, but it’ll be based on what the algorithm wants you to see, based of course on your behaviours,” he said.

“You will have less and less control over that platform and eventually you will just be a cog in Facebook’s universe,” he added.

WhatsApp on the other hand claims these changes were done to make it “easier for people to both make a purchase and get help from a business directly on WhatsApp.”