India Gives WhatsApp 7-Day Deadline To Roll Back New Privacy Policy

WhatsApp might be trying to push its new privacy policy down users’ throats with non-stop reminders, but the Indian government has told it in no uncertain terms to desist.

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) has directed instant messaging app WhatsApp to roll back its latest privacy policy update which will share users’ metadata with companies including Facebook. Meity has given WhatsApp seven days to reply to its notice, and said the ministry may also take legal action against the company if its response isn’t deemed satisfactory.

“The Government of India will consider various options available to it under laws in India,” sources told ET. “The changes to the WhatsApp privacy policy and the manner of introducing these changes including in FAQ undermines ‘the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users and harms the rights and interests of Indian citizens,” they added.

The government has maintained its stance that the new WhatsApp privacy policy is discriminatory, as WhatsApp users in Europe get the option to opt out of the policy, but Indian users don’t.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy requires some data of its users to be shared with Facebook. WhatsApp had first introduced the new update in January this year, and threatened users that their accounts would be deleted if they didn’t accept the new terms. This had led to an immediate backlash, and many people had switched to Signal and Telegram instead. WhatsApp appeared taken aback by the response, and had rolled back the update, while simultaneously carrying ads across newspapers trying to explain the new policy.

But a few months later, WhatsApp had begun showing users a similar pop-up once again, urging people to accept the new terms by 15th May. The deadline has now come and gone, and WhatsApp is still showing the same pop-up to users who haven’t accepted the new policy. It’s even gone ahead and said that it’ll start disabling functionality for users who don’t accept its new terms.

The Indian government, though, seems to have taken a dim view of the matter, and now asked WhatsApp to roll-back its new policy in seven days. While it remains to be seen if WhatsApp complies, what’s astonishing is the degree to which WhatsApp seems to want to ram through this new policy — it’s showing non-stop pop-ups to users, risking a migration to rival apps, and even locking horns with the government. WhatsApp has previously said that the new update only shares limited data with Facebook when users interact with business accounts, but the vigor with which WhatsApp is pursuing this issue should make Indian users sit up and wonder why the messaging app so desperately wants Facebook to access their data.