No misuse of WhatsApp data, Facebook assures Parliamentary Standing Committee

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NEW DELHI: Facebook has assured the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology that its subsidiary WhatsApp is not sharing personal data, like conversation and exchange of messages between individuals, with it. The social media site underlined that the exchange between users is fully encrypted and there is breach of privacy.

The Standing Committee, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, met on Thursday to hear the views of representatives of Facebook and Twitter on the subject- safeguarding citizens rights and prevention of misuse of social online news media platforms including special emphasis on women’s security in the digital space.

Facebook representative Shivnath Thukral faced questions from the Standing Committee members on reports that WhatsApp is sharing data of its users with the parent organisation. Thukral assured the panel that there is no truth in the allegations that the privacy of WhatsApp users is being invaded, sources said.

He informed the panel that Facebook has repeatedly made this fact clear that there is no misuse. One of the members asked Thukral if reports that WhatsApp can listen in and/or record conversations taking place between individuals, to which he replied in the negative and said all conversations and messages are encrypted, end-to-end.

The Facebook official said his organisation has received 15 questions from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on various aspects of this issue and it is in the process of studying them and framing replies.

The committee members also sought to know why despite having 40 crore users in India, Facebook continues to mete out “unfair treatment” to Indian users while having better policies for users in other countries. Facebook was asked why it is not adopting uniform rules and policies in all countries.

Facebook representatives have underlined that all questions posed on the matter are “important and relevant” and it will get back to the committee with elaborate, “full-fledged” answers to them.

There has been growing concern among users that WhatsApp invades their privacy. Many users have reportedly switched to Telegram and Signal to prevent possibilities of snooping or sharing of data.

The Standing Committee on Information Technology is also dealing with the allegedly arbitrary policy adopted by Twitter in banning some handles which post “objectionable” content while turning a blind eye to a few other accused committing the same offence.

Meanwhile, some of the panel members hailing from poll-bound states did not attend the meeting on Thursday as they were busy with election preparations.

The panel will meet again on Friday to consider and adopt its report on India’s preparedness for 5G spectrum.

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