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Shift in stance: WhatsApp says won’t limit functionality

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Instant messaging platform WhatsApp on Monday said it would not limit the functionality of how the app works for anyone in the coming weeks and would maintain this stance “at least” until the personal data protection (PDP) law came into effect in India.

The statement by WhatsApp comes after only a few weeks after it had said that it would, over time, limit the functionality of those who had not yet accepted the updated privacy terms. WhatsApp had then also said that it would restrict such users’ access to chat lists, incoming voice and video calls, before eventually deleting their accounts.

On May 7, however, the company once again said it had for now done away with the May 15 deadline for users to accept its privacy policy and that it would “follow up” with people who had not yet accepted the new terms of service.

In its statement on Monday as well, the company spokesperson said it would “continue to remind users from time to time about the update” and about other relevant optional features such as when they are communicating with a business that is receiving support from Facebook. The company said it had also responded to the government’s May 18 letter.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) had last week written to WhatsApp warning it of “legal action” if it did not send a satisfactory reply by May 25 to a new notice on rolling back privacy update.

In the communication, the Ministry had said that the “changes to the privacy policy and the manner of introducing these changes including in FAQ (frequently asked questions)” undermined “the sacrosanct values of informational privacy, data security and user choice for Indian users”.

Last week’s letter was second such communication from the IT ministry in which it had asked WhatsApp to withdraw the controversial privacy policy. In January, the ministry had written a letter to Will Cathcart, the global Chief Executive Officer of the instant messaging platform, asking that the latest privacy and policy update be withdrawn.

The privacy update, the IT ministry letter had then said, enabled WhatsApp and other Facebook companies “to make invasive and precise inferences about users”.

Earlier this year in January, WhatsApp had, through an in-app notification, told its users that it had updated the privacy policy and that if they did not accept the updated terms by February 8, they would lose access to their accounts.

The ultimatum did not sit well with users and privacy activists, who raised alarm about how the new policy was invasive and would lead to the data of users being breached. To these claims, WhatsApp clarified that the changes were necessary to help businesses through WhatsApp Business, which was launched by the company in 2018 to facilitate communication between businesses and customers.

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