The demand creates a new worrying concern for WhatsApp and its US parent Facebook, which have capitalised on the South Asian nation for expanding their payments and other businesses.
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology wrote in an email to WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart dated January 18, “The proposed changes raise grave concerns regarding the implications for the choice and autonomy of Indian citizens.”
“Therefore, you are called upon to withdraw the proposed changes,” the ministry wrote in the letter seen.
Having 400 million users in India, WhatsApp has big plans for India’s growing digital payments space, which includes health insurance via partners. Its plans could take a back seat if Indians switch to rival messengers such as Signal and Telegram, downloads of which have grown after WhatsApp said on January 4 it could share limited user data with Facebook and its group firms.
It is of “great concern” that Indian users do not have the choice to not go for data sharing with Facebook companies and are being given less choice compared to the app’s European users, the tech ministry letter said.
It said, “This differential and discriminatory treatment of Indian and European users is attracting serious criticism and betrays a lack of respect for the rights and interest of Indian citizens who form a substantial portion of WhatsApp’s user base.”
The ministry asked WhatsApp to give response for 14 questions, which includes the categories of user data it collected, whether it profiled customers on the basis of usage and cross-border data flows.