In a strongly worded letter to WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said India is home to the largest user base of WhatsApp globally and is one the biggest markets for its services.
The ministry asked WhatsApp to withdraw the proposed changes and reconsider its approach to information privacy, freedom of choice and data security.
Stating that Indians should be properly respected, it said, "any unilateral changes to the WhatsApp Terms of Service and Privacy would not be fair and acceptable."
This comes amid users concerned about the privacy of their data amid apprehensions that WhatsApp was sharing the data with its parent company Facebook.
Facing massive criticism from users globally, including India, WhatsApp has already decided to delay the rollout of its new policy update to May 15. In a blog post, WhatsApp said it is moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms.
"No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We're also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We'll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15," it said in the blog post.
It maintained that messages on the platform are end-to-end encrypted and that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see the private messages on WhatsApp's platform.
It added that it doesn't keep logs of who users are messaging or calling, can't see users' shared location and that it doesn't share contacts with Facebook.
"Instead, the update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. While not everyone shops with a business on WhatsApp today, we think that more people will choose to do so in the future and it's important people are aware of these services. This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook," the blog post said.
"The changes are related to optional business features on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data...The updates related to optional business features are a part of our broader efforts to make communicating with a business secure, better, and easier for everyone," it added.
WhatsApp had informed users about the changes in its terms of service and public policy, through an in-app notification last week. Users had till February 8 to agree to the new terms in order to continue using the platform.
This led to a user backlash and triggered memes on the internet over WhatsApp's alleged sharing of user information with Facebook.
WhatsApp, on its part, has said it is open to answering any questions from the government on the issue and that it remains committed to the privacy and security of users across India and will continue to explain to users that their messages are end-to-end encrypted.
It also sought to assuage user concerns through its blog post, tweets by its Global Head Will Cathcart and even full-page ads in leading dailies in India.
India remains a critical market for Internet companies like Facebook with its large population base and burgeoning Internet adoption. The country is the world's second-largest telecom market and the biggest consumer of data. As on October 30, 2020, the total telephone connections stood at 117 crore, of which 115 crore were mobile connections.
A report by Ericsson had stated that Indians used about 12 GB data per month on an average in 2019, the highest consumption globally, and this is expected to rise even further to about 25 GB (gigabytes) per month by 2025.
WhatsApp rival Telegram has added 25 million new users in the last few days and while it did not specify India-specific user numbers, it said 38 per cent of the new users are from Asia, followed by Europe (27 per cent), Latin America (21 per cent) and MENA (the Middle East and North Africa at 8 per cent).
(With PTI inputs)
Posted By: Abhinav Gupta