In a letter addressed to WhatsApp global head Will Cathcart, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity), says that WhatsApp should clarify issues related to its "privacy and data transfer and sharing policies" within a week.
"The proposed changes raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens. Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes", says the strongly worded letter.
The letter comes just a day after the Delhi High Court said that the users could uninstall the app if they disagree with the new service terms. The court was hearing a plea about the change in privacy terms.
Two steps back
This is a significant setback to the messaging service, which recently updated its privacy policies. When implemented, the new guidelines will enable WhatsApp to share significantly more user data with Facebook and other businesses.
Significantly the new policy doesn't allow the user to decide whether he/she wants to share the data with the messaging platform – they must to continue to use the platform.
It is this aspect that may lead to more trouble for WhatsApp. This lack of choice can be seen as misuse of its dominant position in the market.
Following an uproar, WhatsApp issued a clarification and finally postponed implementing the new policy till May 2021. The change in privacy policies pushed several people to start using rival messaging platforms like Telegram and Signal.
The Meity letter seeks a response to 14 questions from WhatsApp. The questions include details of the kind of data collected and user profiling conducted by the messaging app.
With more than 400 million Indian users, any change in WhatsApp's data sharing policy will have a massive impact.
Currently, India doesn't have strong data protection laws. The country is in the process of coming up with a Personal Data Protection Bill, which is likely to be introduced in the Parliament soon.
In this context, the Meity letter questions the timing of the changes made by WhatsApp.
— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading