Udayavni Special

WhatsApp privacy policy to now appear on in-app banner


PTI, Feb 19, 2021, 10:22 AM IST

New Delhi: WhatsApp will display a banner on the app providing users with more information on privacy policy and terms of use update that has drawn massive criticism over concerns on data sharing with parent Facebook.

The contentious policy — whose rollout date was pushed to May 15 from February 8 — however, remains unchanged.

In a blog post on Friday, WhatsApp said it will display a banner in the app in the coming weeks “providing more information that people can read at their own pace”.

“We’ve also included more information to try and address concerns we’re hearing. Eventually, we’ll start reminding people to review and accept these updates to keep using WhatsApp,” the Facebook-owned company said.

WhatsApp, in an e-mailed response, said the new in-app notification looks different from the one users saw in January and that has been redesigned based on feedback from users.

“…but the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy remain the same. As a reminder, this update does not change the privacy of people’s personal conversations and does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook,” WhatsApp said.

A raging debate erupted last month after WhatsApp said it will update its terms of service and privacy policy around how it processes user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the social media giant’s products.

The Indian government had asked WhatsApp to withdraw the changes, saying unilateral changes are unfair and unacceptable, and that not giving users an option to opt-out raised “grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens”.

It had also questioned why Indian users are being subjected to differential treatment when compared to their European counterparts where the changes do not apply.

After the public outcry, WhatsApp had decided to delay the rollout of its new policy update to May 15.

“After May 15, people who haven’t accepted the privacy policy can still receive calls and get notifications, but they’ll need to agree to the update to send messages,” WhatsApp said.

It added that in accordance with its policies, user accounts will remain active to allow them to accept the new terms of service and updates.

Issues ranging from provocative and inflammatory content to misinformation to data breaches have placed social media companies including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter on the line of fire over the past many months.

The government has confronted these companies on multiple occasions and asserted that they need to comply with the rules of the land and crackdown on misuse of their platforms.

Intermediary guidelines — which apply to digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter — are in final stages and are expected to be announced soon. These rules aim to curb misuse of social media and raise the accountability of digital platforms to users and Indian law.

WhatsApp has about 2 billion users globally, with India — its largest market — having over 400 million users.

In its blogpost, WhatsApp said it had previously encountered a great deal of “misinformation” about its policy update and that it continues to work on clearing up confusion.

“We’ll be doing much more to make our voice clear going forward,” it said, adding that it had used the ‘Status’ feature to share information around the update.

“As a reminder, we’re building new ways to chat or shop with a business on WhatsApp that are entirely optional. Personal messages will always be end-to-end encrypted, so WhatsApp can’t read or listen to them,” it noted.

WhatsApp also highlighted that services to users on the platform remain free and it charges businesses to provide customer service on its platform.

It said some shopping features involve Facebook, so that businesses can manage their inventory across apps and that it will display more information directly in WhatsApp so people can choose if they want to engage with businesses or not.

Concerned about the privacy of their data, many users are thronging to rival messaging platforms such as Signal and Telegram, pushing the downloads of these apps into millions.

WhatsApp sought to play down the trend.

“During this time, we understand some people may check out other apps to see what they have to offer. We’ve seen some of our competitors try to get away with claiming they can’t see people’s messages – if an app doesn’t offer end-to-end encryption by default that means they can read your messages,” it said.

Without naming any rival, WhatsApp said “people are looking for apps to be both reliable and safe, even if that requires WhatsApp having some limited data”.

“We strive to be thoughtful on the decisions we make and we’ll continue to develop new ways of meeting these responsibilities with less information, not more,” it added.

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