WhatsApp privacy controversy: Invite links appear on Google, calls to boycott grow louder

Tesla CEO Elon Musk asked his 41.9 million users on Twitter to use the Signal app.  Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma too dived into the debate.
Image used for representational purpose
Image used for representational purpose

BENGALURU: Facebook-owned messaging service giant WhatsApp landed in another controversy on Monday after cybersecurity experts found many of the private group invite links and member profiles were accessible on search engine Google. Security experts said that it led to many unwanted users being added to the groups and sharing unsolicited material in these groups, although the bug was removed later.

WhatsApp said in a statement that it had informed Google of the "no-index tag" which excluded several links from being indexed on the search engine. It also cautioned users from sharing the private group links on internet and public channels and said that any new group addition is always notified to the existing members as well as the group admin.

Meanwhile, the clamour around the invasion of privacy due to WhatsApp's updated policy has grown in India with company CEOs and trader bodies openly telling their employees/ members to refrain from using WhatsApp and switch to Signal, Telegram. 

Earlier, Tesla CEO Elon Musk asked his 41.9 million users on Twitter to use the Signal app.  Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma too dived into the debate and said that Big Tech is abusing its monopoly in a country like India, the world's second-largest internet market.

"They say, market has power. We are the largest market.  Here in India WhatsApp / Facebook are abusing their monopoly and  taking away millions of users' privacy for granted. We should move on to@signalapp  NOW. It is up to us to become (the) victim or reject such moves," Sharma said in a tweet.

The Confederation of All India Traders(CAIT) in a written communication to the Union minister of Information and technology demanded a ban on Facebook, WhatsApp or implementation of a strict policy that prevents the tech giant from implementation of the new measures. 

"All kinds of personal data, payment transactions, contacts, location and other vital information of a person who is using WhatsApp will be acquired by it and can be used for any purpose by WhatsApp," CAIT said in a statement.

On Monday, rival messaging apps, Signal, Telegram pipped WhatsApp on Apple and Google playstores as people kept flocking to register on the new platforms with a focus on privacy. Sanchit Vir Gogia, Chief Analyst and Founder, CEO, Greyhound research observed that Whtasapp's user base comprises businesses/ enterprises both for internal communication as well as with the customers and hence the onus lies with them to use highly confidential information through more secure channels.

"Organisations scared of losing sensitive data to Facebook and other social media organisations need to first question why is such data being shared on consumer apps. It raises additional questions on their policies, efforts made to invest in secure collaboration tools, user education & onboarding,” he added.

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The New Indian Express