India tells WhatsApp to withdraw its new policy terms

·2-min read

The Indian government is not pleased with WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. The nation’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has once again directed the Facebook-owned company to withdraw the planned update.

In a letter to WhatsApp on Tuesday -- which was read to TechCrunch -- MeitY has given the popular instant messaging provider seven days to offer a “satisfactory” response. Failure to do so, the ministry warned, will prompt lawful measures.

“In fulfilment of its sovereign responsibility to protect the rights and interests of Indian citizens, the government of India will consider various options available to it under laws in India,” the letter reads.

The letter comes at a time when the ministry is also pursuing a legal case on this matter in the Delhi High Court -- and the second-largest internet market is also conducting an antitrust probe on the subject.

This is not the first time New Delhi has issued a notice to WhatsApp about the new privacy terms. Earlier this year, in a similar letter, the Indian government had expressed "grave concerns" about the planned update.

Following backlash from several governments and users, WhatsApp earlier this year delayed enforcement of the privacy update by three months -- to May 15. Last week, it somewhat relaxed the deadline, though users need to still need to comply to access some basic features.

A spokesperson at the time told TechCrunch that the vast majority of users who had seen the new privacy terms on the app had accepted it.

With over 450 million users, India is WhatsApp’s biggest market by users.

The ministry in its notice this week has asked WhatsApp why it needs to enforce the new changes to its terms of service -- the first major update in years -- to users in India when those in the EU have been exempted from it.

The updated privacy terms grant WhatsApp the consent to share some personal information -- such as their phone number and location -- with parent firm Facebook. WhatsApp has clarified that communication between two individuals remains just as private as before.

“It is not just problematic, but also irresponsible, for WhatsApp to leverage this position to impose unfair terms and conditions on Indian users, particularly those that discriminate against Indian users vis-à-vis users in Europe,” the ministry wrote in the letter.

In response to a petition filed in the Delhi High Court earlier this month, WhatsApp argued that many Indian firms maintain similar policies and share more data. In the petition, WhatsApp had identified food delivery startup Zomato, ride-hailing giant Ola, online grocer BigBasket, as well as Swedish giant Truecaller, which counts India as its largest market by users, as some examples.