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    Facebook's Oversight Board can't help with WhatsApp's new privacy policy

    Synopsis

    The privacy update and new terms of service have raised concerns among users in India, WhatsApp's biggest market and around the world on how much data WhatsApp intends to share with parent Facebook.

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    Concerned about their privacy and data sharing, WhatsApp's millions of users in India and around the world cannot turn to parent Facebook's Oversight Board for appeals on the messaging giant's privacy policy update.

    An Oversight Board spokesperson told ET that while the board can offer 'policy recommendations' to Facebook and will look at content moderation on Facebook and Instagram, it is not mandated to review WhatsApp's policies.

    "The Board has a specific mandate which does not relate to this area but is no less pressing. Its independence, responsibilities, resources and the breadth and diversity of board members, reflect a serious and genuine attempt to tackle these important and complex issues which are among the many challenges in social media regulation," the spokesperson added.

    The Oversight Board began accepting appeals in October last year and its members include Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice-chancellor of the National Law School of India University, former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman from Yemen, Alan Rusbridger, former editor in chief of The Guardian, and Emi Palmor, former director-general of the Israeli ministry of justice among others.

    Untitled-7Agencies

    Since its inception, questions have been raised about the board's possibly limited ambit of operations and the extent to which it can curb misinformation and abuse on Facebook. The Oversight Board said last year its members could take 'many' significant types of decisions including content on Facebook or Instagram, on advertising or groups and that it will also be able to make policy recommendations to Facebook based on its case decisions.

    The board said currently it is able to receive appeals from users for content that Facebook has removed from the platform, either on Facebook or Instagram. It can also receive appeals from Facebook for content left up or removed from the platform for issues that the company defines as 'significant and difficult.'

    "Significant meaning this has a real-world impact in terms of severity, scale and relevance to public discourse. Difficult means the content is disputed, the decision is uncertain, and/or there are competing values," the spokesperson added.

    The privacy update and new terms of service have raised concerns among users in India, WhatsApp's biggest market and around the world on how much data WhatsApp intends to share with parent Facebook.

    In a blog post on January 4, WhatsApp said that sharing data with Facebook will help “personalization” of content and the display of relevant advertisements across the group’s multiple social platforms. Users who don’t accept the updated privacy policy, which comes into force in February, won’t be able to access chats on the platform.

    WhatsApp reiterated its stance on privacy through new clarifications on Tuesday stating it wants to address some rumors and be ‘100% clear’ that it continues to protect private messages with end-to-end encryption.

    The company said it cannot see users' private messages or hear their calls and neither can Facebook and that it will not share user contacts with Facebook.

    "This update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data," the company said in a statement.

    WhatsApp also said it cannot see the shared location of users and neither can Facebook and that it does not keep logs of who everyone is calling or messaging.
    The Economic Times