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House panel may summon FB on WhatsApp privacy policy.

The Parliamentary Panel on Information Technology is likely to summon Facebook officials in the wake of privacy concerns about WhatsApp, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

‘The issue was discussed, but not as a matter of formalised discussion,’ a person aware of the proceedings of the meeting held on Tuesday said. ‘You can expect the panel to take up the matter.’

The new privacy policy, which was rolled out by WhatsApp, owned by Facebook Inc, last week, includes mandatory sharing of data with the parent company. The decision to share data was first floated in 2016, post WhatsApp’s acquisition by Facebook, but until last week, users already on the platform before the acquisition had the choice of not sharing that data.

That choice no longer exists.

The move has faced massive backlash globally, with users en masse defecting to other messaging applications such as Signal and Telegram.

The panel, led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, may also plan to summon Twitter. ‘The companies will have to come in and clarify whether they are intermediaries or publishers,’ said a second person familiar with the matter. ‘The issue of taking down of people’s accounts arbitrarily may also be raised. The exact date of the meeting has not yet been set, but it will happen in the coming weeks.’

A third person familiar with the matter said that issue of Twitter’s ‘arbitrary’ ban of US President Donal Trump, in the aftermath of an armed insurrection by his supporters on the Capitol building in Washington, was raised by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Nishikant Dubey and Congress MP Karti Chidambaram. ‘If they are intermediaries, how can they ban someone. Today, its Donald Trump, tomorrow it will be someone else,’ said the third person.

The issue of data privacy was raised by Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, and supported by other MPs, the third person mentioned above said. ‘If WhatsApp says its data is end-to-end encrypted, how can it be shared with someone else? This raises serious concerns about data privacy. Moreover, in this case, why can’t they share the data with the government of India,’ the third person added.

The panel met on Tuesday to hear from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the nodal agency for Aadhaar. The second person quoted above said UIDAI told the panel that it had managed to completely universalise the Aadhaar services, except in the states of Assam and Meghalaya. Facebook’s handling of data has already been an issue, which has been raised by a joint parliamentary committee and the IT panel in the past.

 

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