Messages between friends and loved ones remain protected

Interview/ Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp


Q/WhatsApp seems to have opened a Pandora’s box with the new privacy policy notification. There are concerns among Indian users about privacy and data mining.

A/At our core, our primary goal is to provide people with private and secure communication, and we never want that to be in doubt. First, messages between friends and loved ones remain protected by end-to-end encryption, which means we cannot see them. That is not changing with this update, and we are fully committed to protecting and preserving the security of private chats.

We started updating our privacy policy last month to provide transparency about our practices including how we plan to support more businesses on WhatsApp, which has emerged as an enabler for businesses, particularly during the pandemic. We will be building new and optional features for people to shop on WhatsApp. This will be available to all, but it will be people’s choice whether or not to choose to do so.

Q/If the move is part of the company’s business/e-commerce plans, what is the need for such sweeping access to personal data?

Even though these are optional features we think it is important for everyone to know how we protect and secure their information. Not everyone may talk to a business today, but some will in the future. Hence, it is important that everyone is aware of these options. Apps need to periodically provide updates to their users that explain their collection practices and that is what we have done here. There is a lot of confusion out there, but aside from these business tools, this update does not ask for any new permissions compared with 2016.

Q/Putting it into perspective with Facebook’s tie-up with Jio and planned foray into e-commerce, how will it help Indian consumers?

A/We want to enable any business to operate on WhatsApp, which means giving them the ability to host their chats wherever they want to store them and giving them the ability to display their catalogue and ultimately facilitate checkout right from a chat.Through our investment in Jio, we are going to bring millions of small businesses and the customers they serve into the digital economy. This will make it easier for businesses to connect with their customers and close sales.

Q/Earlier, it was announced that there was no data sharing arrangement between Facebook/WhatsApp and Reliance/Jio. Does it change now?

A/This update does not change that in any way.

Q/Isn’t it unfair to give users just two options—agree or stop using WhatsApp altogether?

A/It is a good question, though it is common for apps to do this. It is our responsibility to spell out how we operate and work in full, in one place. Again, this update does not ask for more data related to personal communication.