India has asked WhatsApp to withdraw the planned change to its privacy policy, presenting a new problem for the Facebook-owned service that identifies the South Asian country as its largest market by users.

In an email to WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart, the nation’s Ministry of Information Technology said the upcoming update to the app’s data sharing policy has raised “serious concerns regarding the implications for Indian citizens’ choice and independence … therefore, you are being asked to withdraw the proposed changes.”

The ministry is also seeking clarification from WhatsApp regarding the data-sharing agreement with Facebook and other commercial companies, and has questioned why users in the European Union are exempt from the new privacy policy, but they have no other choice in India but to comply.

“Such differential treatment harms the interests of Indian users and is viewed by the government with great concern,” the ministry wrote in the email, which TechCrunch obtained a copy of. “The government of India owes a sovereign responsibility towards its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised, and therefore it demands WhatsApp to respond to the concerns raised in this message.”

With an in-app alert earlier this month, WhatsApp asked users to agree to new terms that give the app consent to Facebook sharing some personal data about them, such as phone number and location. Users are initially provided until February 8th to comply with the new policy if they wish to continue using the service.

This “all-or-nothing” approach takes any meaningful choice from Indian users. The ministry said in an email that this approach enhances the social significance of WhatsApp for forcing users to enter into a bargain, which may violate their interests in terms of information privacy and information security.

A WhatsApp advertisement in a newspaper at a kiosk in New Delhi on January 13, 2021 (Photo by Sajjad Hussain / AFP) (Photo by Sajjad Hussain / AFP via Getty Images)

The notification from WhatsApp has sparked a lot of confusion – and in some cases, anger and frustration – among its users, many of whom have discovered alternative messaging apps like Telegram and Signal in recent weeks.

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A WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday, “We want to emphasize that this update does not extend our ability to share data with Facebook. Our goal is to provide transparency and new options available for dealing with companies so that they can serve their customers and grow. WhatsApp will always protect personal messages through encryption. End-to-end so WhatsApp or Facebook cannot see it. We are working on dealing with misleading information and remain ready to answer any questions. “

Whatsapp which Facebook bought it for $ 19 billion in 2014, Some limited information about its users has been shared With the social giant since 2016 For a while, it allowed users to opt out of this. In response to the backlash last week, the Facebook-owned app, which serves more than 2 billion users worldwide, said it Postponing implementation of the planned policy Until May 15th.

WhatsApp also showed front page ads in several newspapers in India last week, where it was present It collected more than 450 million usersTo explain the changes and expose some rumors.

New Delhi also shared the disappointment with the timing of this update, which, to be fair, revealed WhatsApp last year. The ministry said it is in the process of reviewing the Personal Data Protection Act, a massive privacy bill aimed at overseeing how users’ data is shared with the world.

“Since Parliament has gotten to grips with the issue, making such a drastic change for Indian users at this time puts the cart before the horse. Since the Personal Data Protection Act strongly follows the principle of“ setting purpose, ”these changes could lead to significant implementation challenges for WhatsApp in the event Turned the bill into law. “

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On Tuesday, India’s Information Technology and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also gave high advice to Facebook. Be it via WhatsApp, be it Facebook, or any digital platform. You are free to do business in India but you can do so in a way without compromising the rights of the Indians who work there. “

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