In an email to WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, the nation’s IT ministry said the upcoming update to the app’s data-sharing policy has raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens… Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes.”
“Such a differential treatment is prejudicial to the interests of Indian users and is viewed with serious concern by the government,” the ministry wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by TechCrunch. “The government of India owes a sovereign responsibility to its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised and therefore it calls upon WhatsApp to respond to concerns raised in this letter.”
Through an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp had asked users to agree to new terms of conditions that grants the app the consent to share with Facebook some personal data about them, such as their phone number and location. Users were initially provided until February 8 to comply with the new policy if they wished to continue using the service.
“This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach takes away any meaningful choice from Indian users. This approach leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain, which may infringe on their interests in relation to informational privacy and information security,” the ministry said in the email.
The notification from WhatsApp prompted a lot of confusion — and in some cases, anger and frustration — among its users, many of which have explored alternative messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal in recent weeks.
In a statement on Tuesday, a WhatsApp spokesperson said, “We wish to reinforce that this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook. Our aim is to provide transparency and new options available to engage with businesses so they can serve their customers and grow. WhatsApp will always protect personal messages with end-to-end encryption so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see them. We are working to address misinformation and remain available to answer any questions.”
WhatsApp, which Facebook bought for $19 billion in 2014, has been sharing some limited information about its users with the social giant since 2016 — and for a period allowed users to opt-out of this. Responding to the backlash last week, the Facebook-owned app, which serves more than 2 billion users worldwide, said it was deferring the enforcement of the planned policy to May 15.
WhatsApp also ran front-page ads on several newspapers in India last week, where it has amassed over 450 million users, to explain the changes and debunk some rumors.
New Delhi also shared disappointment with the timing of this update, which, to be fair, WhatsApp unveiled last year. The ministry said that it was reviewing the Personal Data Protection Bill, a monumental privacy bill that is meant to oversee how data of users are shared with the world.
“Since the Parliament is seized of the issue, making such a momentous change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse. Since the Personal Data Protection Bill strongly follows the principle of ‘purpose limitation,’ these changes may lead to significant implementational challenges for WhatsApp should the Bill become an Act,” the letter said.
On Tuesday, India’s IT and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also offered loud advice to Facebook. “Be it WhatsApp, be it Facebook, be it any digital platform. You are free to do business in India but do it in a manner without impinging upon the rights of Indians who operate there.”
Get heavy discounts on these five popular smartphones
Many smartphones across brands and price segments have been discounted in India recently. Starting from the OnePlus 8T to the OnePlus 8 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy M31s and the Vivo V20 SE, here’s a list of six smartphones that received a price cut in India recently. Check the new prices of these phones right here.
OnePlus 8 received a price cut in India recently. The flagship smartphone now starts at Rs 41,999. After the price cut, the OnePlus 8 8GB RAM and 128GB storage model is available for a lower price of Rs 41,999 down from Rs 44,999. The 12GB RAM and 256GB storage model o the phone now comes at Rs 44,999 down from Rs 49,999.
OnePlus 8 Pro
The OnePlus 8 Pro also gets cheaper in India. After the price cut, the base model of the phone with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage comes at a price of Rs 50,999. The top-end 12GB RAM and 256GB storage model comes at a lower price of Rs 55,999.
Vivo V20 SE
Vivo V20 SE was launched in India last year. The phone has now been discounted in the country and selling for a discounted price of Rs 19,990 for the 8GB RAM + 128GB storage variant. Consumers can be purchased across all mainline partners, retail stores pan India, vivo India E-store, Flipkart, Amazon.in and other major e-commerce platforms.
Redmi 9 Prime
The budget Redmi 9 Prime has also been discounted in the country. The 4GB RAM + 64GB storage model of the phone is now available at a new price of Rs 9499 while the top-end 4GB RAM + 128GB storage model is available at a discounted price of Rs 10,999 after Rs 1000 price cut.
Samsung Galaxy M31s
Samsung has reduced the price of the Galaxy M31s in India. The 8GB RAM + 128GB storage model is discounted to Rs 20,499, while the price of the 6GB RAM + 128GB storage model of the Samsung phone has been dropped to Rs 18,499.
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