Facebook execs face grilling by Indian panel over WhatsApp's privacy

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU • Facebook executives were set to field questions from an Indian parliamentary panel yesterday about changes to WhatsApp's privacy policy, a source said, days after the messaging platform was asked by the country's Technology Ministry to withdraw them.

The panel will ask why Facebook needed to change WhatsApp's privacy policy and how it will impact users, the source said.

WhatsApp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The messaging platform earlier this month kicked off a storm when it informed users it was preparing a new privacy policy, under which it could share limited user data, including phone numbers and locations, with Facebook and its group firms. Demand for rival applications such as Signal and Telegram surged on privacy concerns and WhatsApp last week decided to delay the new policy launch to May from February.

With 400 million users, India is WhatsApp's biggest market, and the messaging service has big plans for the country's growing digital payments space, including selling health insurance via partners.

Facebook last year invested US$5.7 billion (S$7.5 billion) in the digital unit of Mukesh Ambani-led conglomerate Reliance Industries, with a big part of that aimed at drawing in ten of millions of traditional shop owners to use digital payments via WhatsApp.

Earlier this week, India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in an e-mail to WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart that the new privacy policy terms take away choice from Indian users.

New Delhi was also critical of the app's different treatment of users - those in Europe were exempt from a rule requiring them to be cut off from the messaging app if they did not accept the new conditions.

WhatsApp has already sought to reassure worried Indian users, running full-page adverts in newspapers stressing that "respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline 'Facebook execs face grilling by Indian panel over WhatsApp's privacy'. Subscribe