The government will investigate a claim that WhatsApp accessed the microphone of smartphone users while the phone was not in use, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said on Wednesday.
In a tweet, the minister said the government will examine the alleged breach of privacy even as the new Digital Personal Data Protection Bill was being readied.
This followed a claim that WhatsApp accessed a user’s microphone while he was sleeping.
”WhatsApp has been using the microphone in the background, while I was asleep and since I woke up at 6 AM,” Foad Dabiri, an engineering director at Twitter said on Saturday. ”What’s going on?” Replying to Dabiri’s tweet, Chandrasekhar said, ”This is an unacceptable breach and violation of privacy.” ”We will be examining this immediately and will act on any violation of privacy even as the new Digital Personal Data Protection bill is being readied,” he added.
WhatsApp has been using the microphone in the background, while I was asleep and since I woke up at 6AM (and that's just a part of the timeline!) What's going on? pic.twitter.com/pNIfe4VlHV
— Foad Dabiri (@foaddabiri) May 6, 2023
Dabiri’s tweet went viral, attracting over 65 million views.
WhatsApp responded saying it has been in touch with the Twitter engineer over the last 24 hours, who posted an issue with his Pixel phone and WhatsApp.
”We believe this is a bug on Android that misattributes information in their Privacy Dashboard and have asked Google to investigate and remediate,” WhatsApp said in a tweet.
The company also claimed that users have full control over their mic settings.
”Once granted permission, WhatsApp only accesses the mic when a user is making a call or recording a voice note or video – and even then, these communications are protected by end-to-end encryption so WhatsApp cannot hear them,” it added.
The engineer working with Twitter shared screenshots of his phone which showed WhatsApp accessing and using his handset’s microphone at various times even as he was asleep.
The screenshots prompted several users, including Twitter and Tesla Inc chief Elon Musk, to raise concerns.
”WhatsApp cannot be trusted,” Musk tweeted on the screenshot shared by Dabiri. ”Or that WhatsApp founders left Meta/Facebook in disgust, started #deletefacebook campaign & made major contributions to building Signal. What they learned about Facebook & changes to WhatsApp obviously disturbed them greatly.” WhatsApp has been under scrutiny in India over various issues. In October last year, the Meta-owned messaging app saw a two-hour service disruption, prompting the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to ask the platform to share reasons for the disruption.
Separately, WhatsApp users in India have reported a massive surge in incoming international spam calls over the past few days. Many users complained on Twitter that a major chunk of these spam calls had country codes belonging to Indonesia (+62), Vietnam (+84), Malaysia (+60), Kenya (+254) and Ethiopia (+251).
According to a Statista report, there are over 487 million WhatsApp users in India, making it the biggest market for the company.