WhatsApp puts its new privacy policy on hold in India

UNB | Friday, 9 July 2021

After nearly a six-month stand-off with the Indian government over its new contentious privacy policy, Facebook-owned instant messaging app WhatsApp has finally blinked.

The California-headquartered company on Friday told a higher court in the Indian capital that it would not compel its users to accept its new privacy policy on information sharing with parent firm Facebook till the Indian government enacts the proposed Digital Protection Law.

"We voluntarily agreed to put it (the new policy) on hold... we will not compel people to accept," Harish Salve, the lawyer representing WhatsApp, told the Delhi High Court.

In a statement, the firm also said: "We will not limit the functionality of how WhatsApp works in the coming weeks. Instead, we will continue to remind users from time to time about the update... we will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming law comes into effect."

WhatsApp had approached the Delhi High Court in the wake of a probe ordered by the Competition Commission of India into its new privacy policy.

Last year, WhatsApp rolled out notifications informing users about an update in its 'Terms of Service' that allows the app to share data with Facebook. WhatsApp initially gave users time till February 8 to agree to the policy to continue using the service, but later deferred it.

A couple of months later -- that's in January this year -- the Indian government asked WhatsApp to immediately withdraw the "discriminatory" policy for this country's users in the wake of a huge backlash against the social media platform.

In a letter to WhatsApp's global CEO Will Cathcart, the Indian government had made it clear that the new policy of WhatsApp that proposes to share the metadata of users' chat with business accounts with other Facebook companies "is discriminatory".

The government had also conveyed to WhatsApp that the new policy "would create a honeypot of information about users with Facebook groups, which could create security risks and vulnerabilities for users", an official had told the Indian media.

India is WhatsApp's biggest market.