The WhatsApp messaging app is displayed on an Apple iPhone on May 14, 2019 in San Anselmo, California. Facebook owned messaging app WhatsApp announced a cybersecurity breach that makes users vulnerable to malicious spyware installation iPhone and Android smartphones. WhatsApp is encouraging its 1.5 billion users to update the app as soon as possible.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images
In an email addressed to WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart dated Jan. 18, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said the proposed changes raised “grave concerns” over the implications for choice and autonomy of Indian citizens, Reuters reported.
The update relates specifically to features that allow users to interact with businesses on WhatsApp.
The ministry reportedly said it was worried about the lack of choice Indian users had over opting out of WhatsApp’s planned policy update compared with those in Europe, where data protection rules are more stringent. The tech ministry reportedly called it “discriminatory treatment” that “betrays a lack of respect for the rights and interest of Indian citizens.”
“Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes,” the ministry reportedly wrote, according to Reuters. The news wire added that the ministry has asked WhatsApp to respond to 14 questions including the kind of user data it collected, if it profiled users based on their usage habits and on cross-border data flows.
CNBC could not independently verify the content of the letters.
A WhatsApp spokesperson told CNBC in a statement, “We wish to reinforce that this update does not expand our ability to share data with Facebook.”
“Our aim is to provide transparency and new options available to engage with businesses so they can serve their customers and grow. WhatsApp will always protect personal messages with end-to-end encryption so that neither WhatsApp nor Facebook can see them,” the spokesperson said.
WhatsApp later said that the update will not change the end-to-end encryption of personal conversations, meaning the app and Facebook will still be unable to view private messages. WhatsApp also said it does not share people’s contacts with Facebook.
WhatsApp was due to start prompting users on Feb. 8 to accept those updated terms to continue using the app. Since then, the Facebook-owned app said it would delay the enforcement of its planned policy update until May 15 to give people more time to “review the policy at their own pace.”
India is one of the largest markets for WhatsApp with more than 400 million users. The company’s plans for the country extend beyond just messaging — starting last year, users can send money through the app.