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Govt may step in if WhatsApp violates data privacy of users

After scrutinising the changes in WhatsApp’s privacy policy, the government will decide whether intermediary guidelines need to be strengthened to safeguard the privacy of social media users.

Government officials told BusinessLine that they would communicate if the encrypted messaging platform compromises on security and privacy of its users. “We are examining the situation… we can’t say anything right now, as we are yet to get the details,” an official said.

Intermediary guidelines
The official said the government can change the intermediary guidelines if deemed necessary, as framing the guidelines is in the final stages.

According to senior officials in the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the concern arose because the earlier social media platform Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, too, had maintained that it cannot encrypt any of the WhatsApp messages. But its updated policy said, “WhatsApp must receive or collect some information to operate, provide, improve, understand, customise, support, and market our services, including when you install, access, or use our services.” This has spawned debates.

The new terms of service and privacy policy will come into effect on February 8 and, according to reports, users have to either accept the changes in WhatsApp’s ToS and privacy policy or their accounts will be deleted.

Industry veterans are also questioning the timing of these changes, especially as they come after the launch of the WhatsApp Pay, in which users have to share the banking details that are linked to PAN and Aadhaar. However, over the last few days, the company has been coming out with clarifications that users’ privacy will be protected and not compromised.

“We don’t keep logs of who is messaging or calling. While traditionally mobile carriers and operators store this information, we believe that keeping these records for two billion users would be both a privacy and security risk,” the company said.

Sharing info with FB
On sharing contacts with Facebook, it said, “When you give us permission, we access only the phone numbers from your address book to make messaging fast and reliable; we don’t share your contacts lists with the other apps Facebook offers.” It has also clarified that some changes would be made in the ‘business accounts’ of the users, but not to individual or family groups. The Hindu BusinessLine

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