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WhatsApp Delays Policy Update Rollout to May 15

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WhatsApp has decided to delay the rollout of its new policy update to May 15 after massive criticism from users globally, including India, over concerns that data was being shared with its parent company Facebook.

The move assumes significance for users in India given that the country is among the biggest markets for WhatsApp with over 400 million users.

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In a blog post, WhatsApp said it is moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms.

“No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp. We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” it said in the blog post.

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A raging debate ensued after WhatsApp said it will update its terms of service and privacy policy around how it processes user data and partners with Facebook to offer integrations across the social media giant’s products.

Concerned about their data privacy, many users have thronged to rival messaging platforms such as Signal and Telegram that have seen millions of downloads in the past few days.

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” WhatsApp said.

It maintained that messages on the platform are end-to-end encrypted and that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see the private messages on WhatsApp’s platform.

It added that it doesn’t keep logs of who users are messaging or calling, can’t see users’ shared locations, and doesn’t share contacts with Facebook.

“Instead, the update includes new options people will have to message a business on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data. While not everyone shops with a business on WhatsApp today, we think that more people will choose to do so in the future and it’s important people are aware of these services. This update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook,” the blog post said.

In the FAQ section, WhatsApp emphasized that “the recent terms and privacy policy update do not affect personal messages”.

“The changes are related to optional business features on WhatsApp, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data…The updates related to optional business features are a part of our broader efforts to make communicating with a business secure, better, and easier for everyone,” it added.

WhatsApp had informed users about the changes in its terms of service and public policy, through an in-app notification last week. Users had until February 8 to agree to the new terms to continue using the platform.

This led to a user backlash and triggered memes on the internet over WhatsApp’s alleged sharing of user information with Facebook.

According to sources earlier, the Indian government is also examining and evaluating the recent privacy policy update announced by WhatsApp and discussions are on within the IT Ministry over the implications of the recent move by the messaging platform.

WhatsApp, on its part, has said it is open to answering any questions from the government on the issue. It remains committed to the privacy and security of users across India and will continue to explain to users that their messages are end-to-end encrypted.

It also sought to assuage user concerns through its blog post, tweets by its Global Head Will Cathcart and even full-page ads in leading dailies in India.

India remains a critical market for Internet companies like Facebook with its large population base and burgeoning Internet adoption. The country is the world’s second-largest telecom market and the biggest consumer of data. As on October 30, 2020, the total telephone connections stood at 117 crore, of which 115 crore were mobile connections.

A report by Ericsson had stated that Indians used about 12 GB data per month on an average in 2019, the highest consumption globally, and this is expected to rise even further to about 25 GB (gigabytes) per month by 2025.

WhatsApp rival Telegram has added 25 million new users in the last few days. While it did not specify India-specific user numbers, it said 38 per cent of the new users are from Asia, followed by Europe (27 per cent), Latin America (21 percent) and MENA (the Middle East and North Africa at 8 percent).

Signal too is hoping to capitalize on the opportunities in India with its “simple and straightforward” terms of service and privacy policy.

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