NEW DELHI: Under pressure from the government to withdraw its controversial privacy update in India, Facebook-owned instant messenger WhatsApp refused to comply, but issued a face saver, saying it will “not limit the functionality” of users at least till the country gets a data protection law.
The company has been under tremendous pressure from the government, fairplay regulator Competition Commission and the courts over its new privacy update which it implemented from May 15.
WhatsApp now says that if a user does not want to update to the new norms, the person’s app will not lose any functionality, though the user will surely be sent reminders to step up. “We will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks… We will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming personal data protection law comes into effect,” a company spokesperson said.
“Instead, we will continue to remind users from time to time about the update as well as when people choose to use relevant optional features, like communicating with a business that is receiving support from Facebook. We hope this approach reinforces the choice that all users have whether or not they want to interact with a business,” the spokesperson said.
WhatsApp said it has responded to the IT ministry’s communication on the matter and has assured the government that privacy of Indian users “remain our highest priority”.
It reiterated that the update does not change the privacy of people’s personal messages. “Its purpose is to provide additional information about how people can interact with businesses if they choose to do so.”
On May 19, the IT ministry had warned the company of action if it did not respond favourably to a fresh notice on the matter within seven days. “The government has given seven days time to WhatsApp to respond to its notice. If no satisfactory response is received, necessary steps in consonance with law will be taken,” official sources had said, emphasizing that the government is “concerned and serious” over what they called WhatsApp’s “bulldozing its way through to force users” to agree to the update.
The IT ministry has told WhatsApp that its new privacy update (which permits sharing business communication of users with Facebook even though personal chats remains encrypted) is a “violation of several provisions” of the existing Indian laws and rules. “In fulfilment of its sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the Indian government will consider various options available to it under laws in India,” it told the company.