As per its contentious privacy updates, WhatsApp will share user data, including location, phone number, contacts list and usage pattern, with Facebook and its group companies such as Instagram and Messenger, for conversations between users and businesses.
According to TOI, which first reported the development, the Indian government’s concerns about WhatsApp’s potential privacy violations stem from various factors, including the lack of a data protection law in India, since the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 is yet to pass through parliament.
“The privacy update sought by WhatsApp in user agreement in the European Union is seen as lenient while in India it is wide-ranging and may have terms that may potentially harm user privacy,” an unnamed government source was quoted as saying by the publication.
Many users have advocated an en masse migration to alternative messaging platforms such as Telegram and Signal. The public sentiment shifting against WhatsApp is also indicated through app download figures. According to data from Sensor Tower, between January 6 and 10, Signal racked up 2.3 Mn downloads while Telegram saw 1.5 Mn new downloads and installs during the same period. Compared to the five days prior i.e. January 1-5, Signal saw its India downloads grow by 9,483%, while Telegram’s downloads grew by 15%.
With more than 400 Mn users, India is WhatsApp’s largest market in terms of the userbase. The platform recently launched its payments application called WhatsApp Pay for UPI-based payments, and also has plans for offering micro-credit, insurance and other financial services to its Indian users.
Taking notice of the social media backlash against its policies, WhatsApp tweeted a clarification on January 12, 2021, emphasising that it cannot see one’s private messages or hear their calls, and neither can Facebook. However, many have pointed out that the language of the clarification does not indicate any commitment on WhatsApp’s part for not sharing the data in the future. As the public sentiment shifts against WhatsApp, it remains to be seen if the platform can realise its India ambitions.