On Feb. 25, the Indian government released new social media guidelines that allow it to exercise more control over platforms like WhatsApp, including by requiring those platforms to take swift action on government takedown requests, appoint compliance and grievance officers, and identify the originator of problematic messages. The new rules, ostensibly geared at “protecting users’ privacy” in India, are also the latest salvo in government attempts to wrest control over speech online. Caught in the middle are WhatsApp’s 530 million local users.
The February guidelines aren’t even the first time this year that Facebook-owned WhatsApp has faced privacy concerns in India. On Jan. 4, the messaging app unveiled a controversial new policy that furthered data-sharing with its parent company. WhatsApp will reserve the right to share data like phone numbers, IP addresses, and payments with Facebook’s broader network. Users cannot opt out.
WhatsApp was criticized by the public and India’s government for springing the update on its largest market with little notice, as users were expected to comply by Feb. 8 or lose all access. After intense backlash, the app pushed the rollout date to May 15.