Indian legislators quizz Facebook on WhatsApp privacy terms

FILE PHOTO: The WhatsApp messaging application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

NEW DELHI: Facebook executives fielded questions from an Indian parliamentary panel on Thursday about changes to WhatsApp’s privacy policy, days after the country’s technology ministry asked the messaging platform to withdraw them.

The committee asked why Facebook needed to change WhatsApp’s privacy terms and how it will impact users, a panel member told reporters.

“Members wanted to know the implications of the policy for Indian consumers,” the panel member said, adding that WhatsApp has said it will submit written responses.

A WhatsApp spokeswoman said the company had provided its views and will continue to assist the committee in the future.

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.

The messaging platform 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 number and location, 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.

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

India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology this week said in an email to WhatsApp’s boss that the new privacy policy terms take away choice from Indian users.