India To Quiz Facebook Over WhatsApp Privacy Terms

WhatsApp is facing questions from politicians in India, amid widespread concern around its data-sharing policies with Facebook.

Days ago WhatsAp delayed the 8 February deadline by which users must agree to new terms of service after “confusion” around its notification.

The Facebook owned messaging app said the terms update was largely aimed at giving users new options for interacting with businesses and providing more clarity about how it collects and uses data.

Policy update

While WhatsApp’s data-sharing policy may not be changing, the company’s notification may be the first time many of those users became aware of that policy, which has been in place since 2016.

The policy allows Facebook to access a WhatsApp user’s phone number and other registration information, such as email address, as well as information about the user’s phone, the user’s IP address and any payments or financial transactions made over WhatsApp.

This data-sharing terms don’t apply in the UK or the EU, which has different privacy laws.

In 2016 WhatsApp gave existing users a limited time to opt out of the data-sharing arrangement, and if users opted out at that time their choice will continue to be respected.

But the fact that user agreement to the WhatsApp policy update is mandatory, triggered widespread concern.

But now Facebook executives will field questions from an Indian parliamentary panel on Thursday about the changes to WhatsApp’s privacy, a source told Reuters.

The panel will reportedly ask why Facebook needed to change WhatsApp’s privacy policy and how it will impact users, the source said.

Rival uptake

Some users are evidently uncomfortable with the policy update, and WhatsApp’s notification has prompted a massive rise in downloads of competitors such as Telegram and Signal, with the latter hiring more staff to deal with the surge.

Signal and Telegram respectively saw 17.8 million and 15.7 million downloads during the week of 5 to 12 January, with Signal topping Apple’s App Store in 40 countries and the Google Play Store in 18.

WhatsApp saw downloads fall by more than 2 million during the week of 5 to 12 January compared to the previous week, declining to 10.6 million.

With 400 million users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market, and the messaging service has big plans for the country’s growing digital payments space, including selling health insurance via partners, Reuters said.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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