Right To Privacy

WhatsApp’s contentious Privacy Policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Article 21

Mains level: Right to Privacy

The Government of India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the proposed changes in its privacy policy.

Q.What are the factors responsible for the spread of misinformation on social media? Suggest the measures to tackle it.

Core of the news

  • WhatsApp has been embroiled in a controversy over its updated privacy policy.
  • The posts are pointers on the new policy.

What was the news Privacy Policy?

  • When one goes to the status tab on the app, one can see the WhatsApp icon and its four posts, along with the statuses of one’s contacts.
  • While one reads ‘We are committed to your privacy’, another reads, ‘WhatsApp can’t read or listen to your personal conversations as they’re end-to-end encrypted’.
  • Another post reads ‘WhatsApp can’t see your shared location’ and yet another reads ‘WhatsApp doesn’t share your contacts with Facebook’.
  • The messaging app reviewed its privacy policy and asked users to accept the terms and conditions by February 8. Following this, the app faced severe backlash from its users and privacy advocates.

Issues pointed by Govt.

  • said that the proposed changes raised “grave concerns” over the implications of the choice and the autonomy of Indian citizens.
  • It pointed out that the Indian users, who have not been given the option to opt-out of data-sharing with Facebook companies, were being subjected to differential treatment.
  • The issue is the impact it has on informational privacy, data security and user choice.

Data at stake

  • The government asked WhatsApp to reconsider its approach to respect the informational privacy, freedom of choice and data security of Indian citizens.
  • It said that India’s distinct identity and its people must be properly respected and any unilateral changes to WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy would not be fair and acceptable.

A discriminatory move

  • India formed the largest segment of WhatsApp’s user base globally and any change in policies would have a disproportionate impact on its citizens.
  • The privacy policy offered by WhatsApp to its European users specifically prohibits the use of any information shared with a Facebook company for those companies’ own purposes.
  • This Clause is not present in the privacy policy offered to Indian users.
  • This differential and discriminatory treatment of Indian and European users is attracting serious criticism and betrays a lack of respect for the rights and interest of Indian citizens.

What lies ahead?

  • India has a huge user base of WhatsApp and Facebook in India.
  • The consolidation of sensitive information exposes a very large segment of Indian citizens to greater information security risks.
  • By not providing Indian users with the ability to opt-out of this data sharing with other Facebook companies, WhatsApp is treating users with an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach.

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