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Parliament Committee Grills Facebook on WhatsApp’s Privacy Update

The 31-member Parliamentary IT panel, chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, met for 3 hours on 21 January.

Updated
India
3 min read
Senior Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor.
i

Representatives of Facebook India were grilled on WhatsApp’s new contentious privacy policy update by the Parliamentary Committee on IT on Thursday, 21 January, according to members who were present at the meeting.

The meeting, chaired by senior Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor convened at 4 pm and lasted over three hours. Senior Facebook officials have assured that they will submit a detailed written response on the questions raised regarding issues related to data protection and privacy of citizens, especially pertaining to Facebook-owned WhatsApp, The Quint has learnt.

“We wish to thank the Parliamentary Committee for giving us an opportunity to appear before them and provide our views. We look forward to assisting the Hon’ble Committee in future as well,” ANI reported a WhatsApp spokesperson as saying after the meeting,

The 31-member panel, however, saw low attendance with 11 MPs attending Thursday’s crucial meeting. On 22 January, the panel will meet again to discuss the adoption of a draft Report on the issue of 'India's preparedness for 5G'.

In a notice issued by the Lok Sabha secretariat on 17 January, the Committee had summoned representatives of social media giants Facebook and Twitter, to discuss the issues related to “safeguarding citizens' rights and preventing misuse of social/online news media platforms”.

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Earlier, on 2 September 2020, Facebook India’s Managing Director Ajit Mohan was grilled for over two-and-a-half hours by the Parliamentary Committee on IT on the issue of alleged political bias and former top executive Ankhi Das, The Quint had reported.

Govt Pressure on WhatsApp

The meeting comes soon after the government stepped into the WhatsApp privacy update issue and sent a letter with 14 questions on the Facebook-owned messaging app’s privacy policy.

The Government of India on Tuesday, 19 January, wrote to the CEO of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, asking the messaging platform to withdraw the proposed changes to its Privacy Policy for Indian users, ANI reported.

WhatsApp, on its part, on Wednesday, said that the proposed changes do not expand their ability to share user data with Facebook.

“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 spokesperson

The committee has summoned the companies amidst public outrage of digital rights after WhatsApp announced a new privacy policy detailing that it may reserve the right to share user data with its parent company, Facebook.

The users could only use WhatsApp if they accepted the new privacy policy by 8 February – which the company has now extended till 15 May after millions of users migrated to alternate applications like Signal and Telegram.

Facebook India MD Grilled on Political Bias in Sept

Facebook India MD, Mohan, who was summoned by the standing committee on 2 September, was asked a wide range of questions including on the Wall Street Journal articles, allegations of political bias among its top executives, and inaction on hate speech posts and political advertisements during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Mohan was also asked what he had to say about allegations of Facebook actively promoting hate speech. In his response, Mohan stated that the social media company denounces all hate speech and denied claims of bias towards any political party, according panel members who were present at the meeting.

The Facebook MD also claimed that in the second quarter of 2020, the platform has taken down 22.5 million hate speech posts globally.

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