India is reportedly asking WhatsApp to reverse a controversial change to its privacy policy that critics said would have shared personal user data with Facebook

Allana Akhtar
·3 min read
Mark Zuckerberg Narendra Modi.JPG
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California September 27, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
  • TechCrunch obtained a letter sent by India's IT ministry to WhatsApp regarding the app's new policy change.

  • India's government asked the firm to "withdraw" a proposed change that appeared to require users to share some personal data with WhatsApp.

  • Indian WhatsApp users, roughly 400 million, make up the company's largest market.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

India is reportedly asking WhatsApp to reverse its new policy change.

India's IT ministry sent an email to WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart asking the firm to "withdraw the proposed changes" to its terms of service that appeared to require users share personal data like phone numbers and locations, TechCrunch reported.

"Such a differential treatment is prejudicial to the interests of Indian users and is viewed with serious concern by the government," the ministry wrote in an email obtained by TechCrunch. "The government of India owes a sovereign responsibility to its citizens to ensure that their interests are not compromised and therefore it calls upon WhatsApp to respond to concerns raised in this letter."

WhatsApp originally said users risk losing access to the app if they didn't agree to the new terms by February 8, but later delayed the policy change by three months after pushback.

India, WhatsApp's biggest market, holds more than 400 million of the app's 2 billion users.

"We wish to reinforce that this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook," a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement to Insider. "Our aim is to provide transparency and new options available to engage with businesses so they can serve their customers and grow."

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Upon WhatsApp's announcement of the policy change, Indian residents fueled the 4,200% surge in downloads for Signal, a rival encrypted messaging app. Signal saw 2.3 million new installs in India, or 30% of its total new installs.

Indians also accounted for 16% of new downloads for a similar secure messaging app, Telegram, during the same time.

Indian users also filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in mid-January demanding the government prohibit WhatsApp from sharing personal data with third-parties.

Though WhatsApp cannot view messages between users due to the service's end-to-end encryption, Insider's Rob Price found evidence that third-party apps were using data collected from WhatsApp users' activity "including whom they're likely talking to, when they're sleeping, and when they're using their devices." Since Insider's investigation, Google has removed many of the intrusive apps, which violate WhatsApp terms of service, from its store.

WhatsApp has resisted pressure from the US government to allow law enforcement to access messages.

"For all of human history, people have been able to communicate privately with each other," Cathcart told The Wall Street Journal last year, "and we don't think that should go away in a modern society."

This article has been updated to add a statement from WhatsApp. It also has been updated to provide additional context about an Insider investigation into third-party apps collecting WhatsApp user data.

Read the original article on Business Insider