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Should you be concerned about Whatsapp’s impending privacy policy change?

FILE PHOTO: WhatsApp had later claimed that the new policy does not affect users’ private messages, deferred the update to 15 May (REUTERS)Premium
FILE PHOTO: WhatsApp had later claimed that the new policy does not affect users’ private messages, deferred the update to 15 May (REUTERS)

WhatsApp’s controversial new privacy policy goes live on 15 May, despite pushback from users and governments. However, the company has made some changes to how the policy will be enforced. Mint takes a look at the new changes.

1. Why did the policy create controversy?

When it first came out in January, many thought that the new privacy policy would allow WhatsApp to see users’ private messages, and that the company could share such messages with its parent company, Facebook Inc. More importantly, the policy was conveyed to users as an ultimatum, giving them till 8 February to accept the new policy or lose access to the social messaging app. WhatsApp had later claimed that the new policy does not affect users’ private messages, deferred the update to 15 May, and said it would provide more information on the policy.

The social messaging platform has said that the new privacy policy does not affect users’ private messages
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The social messaging platform has said that the new privacy policy does not affect users’ private messages

2. Can you choose to not accept the policy?

WhatsApp has clarified that no accounts will be deleted or deactivated for not accepting the platform’s new policy by 15 May. However, the company’s reminders to users about accepting the policy will become “persistent" after “several weeks". Users will be able to answer incoming calls during this time and get notifications for incoming chats, which they will be able to respond to. However, they won’t be able to access the actual chat list on the platform. Eventually, the platform will remove the ability to receive calls or notifications and you will not be able to send messages.

3. What is WhatsApp’s stance on the matter?

The social messaging platform has said that the new privacy policy does not affect users’ private messages and is an effort at being clearer about upcoming business features. The Facebook-owned company claims that the new terms of service do not change what data WhatsApp can access and what it retains.

4. What is the regulatory stance on this?

The Centre had written to WhatsApp, asking the platform to withdraw its policy. In a letter to WhatsApp in January, the Centre said the policy may be in violation of the country’s upcoming data protection laws. The Centre had alleged that the policy violated the country’s IT rules and urged the Delhi high court to restrain the app from implementing it. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) had also decided to take “suo moto cognizance" of the matter in March, which WhatsApp tried to oppose.

5. Are there alternatives to WhatsApp?

Apps such as Signal and Telegram have gained popularity since the controversy. The two platforms, which also offer end-to-end encrypted services, have been downloaded millions of times since January this year, though neither platform comes close to the user base that WhatsApp has now. Less-known apps such as Threema and Wire have also been recommended. Most data sources suggest that WhatsApp’s user base in India has remained largely unaffected by the controversy.

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