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WhatsApp's new service terms annoy users in India

Messaging service WhatsApp faces heat in India after it recently made changes to its terms of service and privacy policy that will result in the sharing of more user data with Facebook, its owner.

Before changes, users had the option of sharing or not sharing information with Facebook. Now they will need to accept changes before the revised policy comes into force on February 8 to continue using the messaging app.

The information that will now be shared with Facebook includes "registration information (such as your phone number), transaction data, service-related information, information on how you interact with others (including businesses) when using our [WhatsApp] services, mobile device information, your IP address."

Experts say that updated terms will allow WhatsApp to share consumer data with businesses, government and law-enforcement agencies. What further raises concerns is that India has weak privacy and data protection laws, which means a user will not have much legal recourse if his or her data is compromised.

The privacy policy change is part of Facebook's plan to merge several apps – including Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp – to function like one connected, interoperable system.

The changes have not gone down well with users, who are leaving the platform for rival Signal and Telegram messaging apps. As the most downloaded app in India last week, Signal even began experiencing network issues because of an unanticipated increase in the number of users. Several domestic and international tech leaders, including Tesla's Elon Musk, PhonePe's Sameer Nigam and PayTM's Vijay Shekhar Sharma, have encouraged the exodus by sending tweets that urge users to quit WhatsApp.

Several corporates, including Tata Steel, have also advised their employees to refrain from sharing sensitive information or use WhatsApp for business communication. Trade body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has written to the government, asking it either to prevent WhatsApp from implementing the new policy or to ban both WhatsApp and Facebook. The letter says that allowing these companies to access sensitive consumer data could impact India's economy and security.


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Following the backlash, WhatsApp said that the new privacy update would make it easier for people to make purchases and not affect how users communicate privately with friends and family.

With more than 400 million subscribers, India is one of the biggest markets for both WhatsApp and Facebook. Although WhatsApp has become the de facto platform for communicating with family and friends in India, Facebook has struggled to monetize the messaging app it purchased in 2014.

These changes are significant since WhatsApp recently received clearance for its payment services. After the proposed revisions to its policy, it will be able to share payment and bank account details with its parent company.

Further, WhatsApp is critical to Facebook's $5.7 billion investment in Jio Platforms last year. JioMart is using WhatsApp to link small grocery stores and entrepreneurs with Reliance Retail. The change in service terms is sure to benefit the messaging app's plan to harness consumer data so that it can offer more targeted products and services.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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