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Indian antitrust regulator orders probe into WhatsApp privacy policy, report sought in 60 days

India Today Tech     March 24, 2021

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has ordered a probe in WhatsApp's new privacy policy and updated terms and conditions that users have to accept before May 15 if they want to continue using the chat app.

The CCI, in its order on Wednesday evening, said that that the new WhatsApp policy seems unfair to users and hence requires investigation. It noted in its order, "On a careful and thoughtful consideration of the matter, the conduct of WhatsApp in sharing of users' personalised data with other Facebook Companies, in a manner that is neither fully transparent nor based on voluntary and specific user consent, appears prima facie unfair to users."

WhatsApp in an emailed statement to India Today Tech said, "We look forward to engaging with the CCI. WhatsApp remains committed to protecting people's personal communications with end-to-end encryption and providing transparency about how these new optional business features work."

The CCI also says that so far, the response it has received from WhatsApp and Facebook on this matter is evasive and seems disingenuous. This, too, necessitates the need for a probe. "The Commission directs the DG (director-general) to complete the investigation and submit the investigation report within a period of 60 days from the receipt of this order," notes the order.

Facebook came out with its new privacy policy and terms and conditions earlier in the year when WhatsApp users were greeted with a pop-up saying that they would have to accept the new policy. The new policy would allow WhatsApp to share some usage data with Facebook, and it will help the company in its endeavour to connect business with WhatsApp users through WhatsApp business accounts.

The new move from WhatsApp has led to concerns among users, and they have sought alternatives. This led to Signal and Telegram suddenly surging in popularity a few weeks ago, although seeing the pushback from users, WhatsApp first temporarily paused the rollout of the new usage policy and later said that it would give users more time -- until May 15 -- to deliberate on it before they accept it. However, it is worth noting that the new WhatsApp privacy policy and terms and conditions are still mandatory, and users will have to accept them by May 15.

"In the coming weeks, we'll display a banner in WhatsApp providing more information that people can read at their own pace," WhatsApp said last month. "Eventually we'll start reminding people to review and accept these updates to keep using WhatsApp."

The new WhatsApp privacy policy has also been challenged in court, and recently the Indian government told the court that it believed the new policy was violative of certain parts of the IT Act.


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