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Is WhatsApp discriminating against Indian users?

Is WhatsApp discriminating against Indian users?

Is WhatsApp discriminating against its Indian users? Is the question that has come to the fore as the Mark Zuckerberg-controlled instant messaging app has made it clear that the new set of rules which allow WhatsApp user data to be shared with parent company Facebook are not applicable to its European users. These rules will come into effect in India from next month.

WhatsApp has launched an ad blitz in India as part of its damage-control exercise to allay fears among users over data sharing with Facebook. However, these rules are not being introduced in Europe where the strict data privacy laws carry hefty fines for violations.

WhatsApp appears to be taking advantage of the fact that India is still formulating its data privacy policy and pushing ahead with the new rules to bring in more ad revenue for its parent company Facebook.

"How long will we be taken for granted by such blatant double standards," asked Paytm chief Vijay Shekhar Sharma on Twitter. Accompanying his tweet was a full-page newspaper advertisement by WhatsApp issuing clarification on its privacy policy and a screenshot from The Irish Times with a headline that read "WhatsApp says European users do not have to share data with Facebook".

A senior government official said that the issue of WhatsApp’s policy of rolling out separate privacy and data sharing policies for Europe and India would be looked into.

But it is very clear that WhatsApp’s rules for India are different. Niamh Sweeney, Director of Policy for WhatsApp, Europe said “there are no changes to WhatsApp's data-sharing practices in Europe arising from this update. It remains the case that WhatsApp does not share European Region WhatsApp user data with Facebook for the purpose of Facebook using this data to improve its products or ads”.

The information was also updated on WhatsApp Europe’s FAQ webpage. The WhatsApp official also said that its terms of service and privacy policy update did not require users in the European Region to agree to the sharing of data with Facebook in order to continue using the service.

Experts point out that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe is a stringent and robust law protecting privacy and data of users. In India the Personal Data Protection bill is yet to be enacted into a law and so WhatsApp appears to be taking advantage of it.

GDPR provides for a fine of up to 20 million euros or 4% of the annual global turnover of the company whereas, in India, compensation is claimed under Section 43A of IT Act,2000 on a complaint lodged with the adjudicating authority, where the user has to prove that their data has been collected without their permission and misused.

WhatsApp’s new policy has, therefore, offered Indian users the option to stop using the app if they do not want their data shared with Facebook.

The company appears to have taken for granted that the massive consumer base in India of around 400 million users do not have any other option and will, therefore stick to it. However, with some users switching to Signal, the company was rattled and went in for front-page advertisements in newspapers to downplay the extent of privacy that would be compromised under the new rules..