Govt Says Whatsapp ‘Exploiting’ Indian Users With New Privacy Policy; CCI Will Investigate

Fair trade regulator CCI directed its investigation arm to conduct a probe into WhatsApp updated privacy policy and terms of service.
Fair trade regulator CCI directed its investigation arm to conduct a probe into WhatsApp updated privacy policy and terms of service.

Fair trade regulator CCI on Wednesday directed its investigation arm to conduct a probe into WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy and terms of services. CCI said that the conduct of WhatsApp in sharing of users’ personalised data with other Facebook companies, in a manner that is neither fully transparent nor based on voluntary and specific user consent, appears prima facie “unfair to users”.

According to the regulator, a thorough and detailed investigation is required to determine the full extent, scope, and impact of data sharing through users’ involuntary consent.

CCI To Investigate WhatsApp LLC And Parent Facebook Inc

The Competition Commission of India (CCI) directed its investigation arm, the director-general (DG), to complete the investigation and submit a report within 60 days. The order against WhatsApp LLC and parent Facebook Inc came after the Commission took suo moto cognisance of the matter on considering media reports and the potential impact of the policy and terms for WhatsApp users and the market.

WhatsApp’s privacy policy and terms of service for users have been updated, according to the fair trade regulator. It also stated that users will be required to accept the new terms and policies in their entirety, including the terms governing data sharing across all information categories with other Facebook companies. 

According to WhatsApp’s submissions, the 2021 update says WhatsApp aims to provide users with more transparency. The update intends to provide users with further transparency of how it collects, uses, and shares data. WhatsApp claims that the update does not expand its ability to share data with Facebook. However such claims would also be examined and scrutinize properly during the investigation by the DG. 

According to CCI, users, as the owners of their personalised data, have the right to be informed about the extent, scope, and precise purpose of such information sharing by WhatsApp with other Facebook companies. 

“The Commission is of prima facie opinion that the ‘take-it-or-leave-it nature of privacy policy and terms of service of WhatsApp and the information sharing stipulations mentioned therein merit a detailed investigation in view of the market position and market power enjoyed by WhatsApp,” it said.

CCI said the policy whether the historical data of users would also be shared with Facebook companies and whether data would be shared in respect of those WhatsApp users who are not present on other apps of Facebook.

There appears to be no justifiable reason as to why users should not have any control or say over such cross-product processing of their data by way of voluntary consent, and not as a precondition for availing WhatsApp’s services, it said.

So-Called “End-to-End Encryption” Is Not Safe?

WhatsApp is used by over two billion people worldwide, keeping the messaging platform secure is critical. WhatsApp protects all communication on its platform with end-to-end encryption. These encryption keys not only make decrypting messages impossible, but they also prevent third parties, including WhatsApp, from accessing messages or calls.

 “Only you and the person or group you are communicating with can read or see the messages, photos or files you send, or listen to the calls you make,” according to James E. Lee, chief operating officer at Identity Theft Resource Center.

WhatsApp users can customise their privacy settings, including who can see their status and profile. However, keep in mind that not everything you do on the app is confidential.

 “Does collect and share information about how you use the service, including sharing information with their parent company, Facebook,” Lee says. You can learn more about what information is collected and how it is used by reading WhatsApp’s privacy policy

Fairtrade regulator CCI said “However, it appears from the Privacy Policy as well as Terms of Service (including the FAQs published by WhatsApp), that many of the information categories described therein are too broad, vague and unintelligible,” 

Such opacity, vagueness and incomplete disclosures hide the actual data cost that a user incurs for availing WhatsApp services, it added.

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