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Why India’s Data Protection Bill Is Worrying The Messaging Giant
The Meta-owned Messaging app was fined $267M for violating Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
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What Went Wrong?
Since 2018, Ireland's DPC was receiving many complaints from WhatsApp users, non-users, and the German Federal Data Protection Authority, about handling the personal data of its users between WhatsApp and parent company Meta (formerly Facebook).
After getting lots of complaints, DPC decided to start an investigation on the ground of lack of transparency by WhatsApp.
The consumer’s complaints allege that WhatsApp frequently messages users about accepting privacy updates, and uses unclear and vague terms to describe how the data will be shared with its parent company. For the past few months, the messaging app has been forcing users with pop-up requests to accept privacy updates and it also threatens to cut off access to the app if it doesn't accept the update.
In Europe, GDPR provides citizens with a fundamental right to protect their personal sensitive data. Moreover, it also grants the right to share or delete their personal data on the internet. According to DPC, WhatsApp has violated the obligations under Articles 12, 13 and 14 of the GDPR.
In short, these breaches mean that WhatsApp failed to be completely transparent with users about how it shares users’ data with its parent company and its subseries. Furthermore, non-users (third parties on other apps) were also not made aware that their information could be shared by WhatsApp, thereby denying them the ability and right to control their personal data. The DPC stated that, Messaging platform provided only 41% of the required information to users, while non-users received none.
Moreover, WhatsApp said it disagreed with the decision, but it has to comply by updating its policy." We disagree with the decision and are appealing because we believe we already provided the required information to all our users," the spokesperson added.
Assuring users for safety, WhatsApp spokesperson said, "This update does not change our commitment to user privacy or the way we operate our service, including how we process, use or share your data with anyone, including Meta. Wherever you are in the world, we protect all personal messages with end-to-end encryption, which means no one, not even WhatsApp, can read or listen to them”.
Indian Policies & WhatsApp
In January 2021, WhatsApp tried to push an update to force users to allow users to share data with Facebook. This data includes personal sensitive data such as phone numbers, activity on WhatsApp, logs, location information, device identifiers, transaction and payment history, IP addresses, and cookies.
WhatsApp has been sending data to Meta anyway since 2016 (without user consent), but only this year they acknowledged the fact and tried to legitimize the arrangement. The move sparked a backlash that only made it legally difficult for WhatsApp.
To set the context, India has not yet enacted any specific law on data protection. However, the Indian legislature amended the Information Technology Act (2000) to include Section 43A and Section 72A, which authorizes compensation for improper disclosure of personal sensitive data. Currently, India is working on the Data Protection Bill and the appointed committee has sought more time to prepare a report on the Data Protection Bill in the ongoing winter session.