"...The new policy of WhatsApp proposes to share the metadata of users' chat with business accounts with other Facebook companies. It would create a honeypot of information about users with Facebook group which can create security risks and vulnerabilities for users," people familiar with the matter said, referring to what the Electronics and Information Technology Ministry communicated to WhatsApp.
"Ministry further objects to the all-or-nothing approach of WhatsApp that forces users to accept the new service terms and privacy policies, without giving an option to the users to opt-out of this proposed change of integrating user data with other Facebook companies," the people said.
WhatsApp on Friday last postponed its data-sharing policy change after users concerned about privacy fled the messaging service and flocked to rivals Telegram and Signal. The smartphone app, a huge hit across the world, cancelled its February 8 deadline for accepting the update to its terms concerning sharing data with Facebook, saying it would use the pause to clear up misinformation around privacy and security.
"Ministry has also objected to the differential privacy policies for European Union and India. Given that India has the largest user base for WhatsApp in the world, this discriminatory treatment to Indian users shows lack of respect for interests of Indian citizens by WhatsApp. In this context, government reminds WhatsApp that it has a sovereign right to protect the interests of Indian citizens and it shall not compromise on that at any cost," people with knowledge of the matter said.
"Ministry has further asked WhatsApp as to why they have brought about such significant changes when the parliament of India is already considering the Personal Data Protection Bill. This bill, which is at an advance stage of consideration by the joint select committee of both houses of the parliament, strongly follows the principle of 'purpose limitation' with regard to data processing," they said.
The government has sent a list of 14 questions to WhatsApp on privacy and data security concerns. Some of the questions include asking WhatsApp to disclose the exact categories of data that it collects from users in India, the permissions and user consent sought by the app and how each of these would be used.
Encrypted messaging app Telegram has seen user ranks surge on the heels of the WhatsApp service terms announcement. Another encrypted messaging app Signal has also seen a huge surge in demand, helped by a tweeted recommendation by billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.