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Data Privacy: Concern over WhatsApp’s new policy

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Only if the intermediary concerned fails to do the same expeditiously or it is found that it has conspired, abetted or aided in the generation of such content, can the government take action against it.

The ministry of electronics and information technology (Meity) is taking a close look at encrypted messaging app WhatsApp’s new privacy policy wherein it will be sharing commercial user data with parent Facebook.

Sources in the government said the social media intermediary guidelines, which are in the works, may be drafted afresh to build in safeguards against such practices.

The ministry’s concerns emanates from the fact that so far entities like Facebook, etc, maintained the stance that they do not share user data with anybody. The basic definition of intermediaries is that they do not own content and are mere platforms where third-party entities place content. This particular status prevents them from liability in case anything unlawful is noticed on their platforms. In such instances, the government directs the intermediary concerned to remove the unlawful content within a specified period of time.

Only if the intermediary concerned fails to do the same expeditiously or it is found that it has conspired, abetted or aided in the generation of such content, can the government take action against it.

However, sources said the initial feeling in the government is that the recent privacy policy of WhatsApp to share commercial user data with Facebook in a way establishes that it is the owner of the data and hence it can safely not be considered as an intermediary. In such a scenario it may lose the immunity it has with regard to any objectionable content found on its platform at any given point of time.

“Because of such nuances involved we need to study the new privacy policy and and its implications in great detail and understand them before we make any changes in the intermediary guidelines which are currently in the making,” a government official told FE.

Further, the Data Protection Bill, which aims to put curbs on transfer of personal data outside the country may come in conflict with WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. Currently the Bill has not become a law and is before a parliamentary committee, which is examining some of its clauses.

The new privacy policy which comes into force from February 8, allows WhatsApp and Facebook to share user information with businesses and third-party service providers that transact on these platforms.

Privacy experts and anti-trust bodies have also raised alarm at this new privacy policy of WhatsApp.

Experts said the government will need to tackle the issues emanating from this very carefully, as US and European Union agencies have so far been critical of the draft data protection Bill’s clause that personal data resides in servers located within the country.

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