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WhatsApp pushing ahead with controversial privacy policy changes despite user outcry

WhatsApp to go ahead with privacy policy

WhatsApp has said it will go ahead with its controversial privacy policy update, under which it could share user data with parent company Facebook and its group firms, but would provide more information to users to allay their concerns on the issue. 

“In the coming weeks, we’ll display a banner in WhatsApp providing more information that people can read at their own pace,” the messaging platform said in a blog post on Thursday. “We’ve also included more information to try and address concerns we’re hearing. Eventually, we’ll start reminding people to review and accept these updates to keep using WhatsApp,” it added.

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.

In India, which is the largest number WhatsApp users, serious objections were raised over the issue also because 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."

Earlier this week, 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 said 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.

WhatsApp said, “We’ve reflected on what we could have done better here.We want everyone to know our history of defending end-to-end encryption and trust we’re committed to protecting people’s privacy and security. We’re now using our Status feature to share our values and updates directly within WhatsApp. We’ll be doing much more to make our voice clear going forward.”

Facebook, too, faces backlash

WhatsApp’s announcement comes even as parent Facebook is facing a backlash for blocking Australian users from sharing or viewing news content on the platform, causing much alarm over public access to key information.

The move comes in response to the Australian government’s proposed law which would make tech giants pay for news content on their platforms. Australians on Thursday woke up to find that Facebook pages of all local and global news sites were unavailable.

Several government health and emergency pages were also blocked – something Facebook later claimed was a mistake.

The Australian government has criticised the move, saying it showed the "immense market power of these digital social giants".