WhatsApp ‘exits’ accounts of J&K users

(This story originally appeared in on Dec 06, 2019)NEW DELHI: The four-month-long internet shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir has resulted in many WhatsApp users losing access to their accounts.

As per WhatsApp’s global policy, accounts that remain unused for 120 days are automatically deactivated. As J&K completed exactly 120 days of internet blackout on Wednesday, residents woke up to find themselves checked out of their accounts and groups.

A WhatsApp spokesperson told TOI this was not a J&K-specific feature, but a policy for all inactive accounts. “To maintain security and limit data retention, WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity. When that happens, those accounts automatically exit all WhatsApp groups. People will need to be re-added to groups upon regaining access to the internet and joining WhatsApp again,” the spokesperson said.

Messages and media files will be available subject to the last backup on Google Drive. The app has around 400 million users in India, but does not disclose geographical distribution of its user base.

Telecom analysts said close to 1.5 million WhatsApp users could be impacted. It remains to be seen if other internet-based services such as social network accounts or netbanking also face a similar fate in coming days, they added.

“Given that only users in the Valley were hit by continued net disruption for straight 120 days, one estimates that some 1.5 million WhatsApp users may have got deactivated on Wednesday,” said Faisal Kawoosa, founder of telecom consulting firm techARC.

Kawoosa added that he had adjusted for residents who can travel in and out of the region, keeping their accounts alive. Hailing from J&K, Kawoosa on Wednesday night witnessed 200 of his friends and family members based in the Valley ‘leaving’ WhatsApp groups.

“Suddenly I saw various members of my school and family WhatsApp groups being reported as ‘left’,” he said. Khalid Shah, a Delhi-based professional with roots in J&K told TOI that it was surreal to see those who had been silent for four months suddenly exiting from all groups.