WhatsApp defends privacy policy in Delhi High Court

Using the messaging service is a voluntary decision, counsel for WhatsApp tell s court


In response to WhatsApp’s position, the  chief justice of Delhi high court asked what would happen to information shared over the platform if a user chose to deactivate the service due to the new policy. Photo: Mint
In response to WhatsApp’s position, the chief justice of Delhi high court asked what would happen to information shared over the platform if a user chose to deactivate the service due to the new policy. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: Responding to a petition on its new privacy policy in the Delhi high court, WhatsApp told the court that it was not forcing anyone to use its app, and that the sharing of user information in the policy did not extend to conversations between users that are encrypted and can be seen only by the sender and the receiver.

“Using the messaging service is a voluntary decision, we have not forced anybody to use it. Users have an option of opting out of it.” Siddharth Luthra counsel for WhatsApp (owned by Facebook Inc) said.

WhatApp’s new privacy policy allows it to collect and share information of its users’ with Facebook and all its group companies for the purpose of commercial advertising and marketing on its platform.

This includes sharing of phone numbers and information on a users’ contact list in violation of users’ privacy.

The policy which is slated to take effect on 25 September allows users to not accept the new policy by making changes in their WhatsApp settings and unchecking a box allowing for sharing of information (sharing is the default option).

On 31 August, two students, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi filed a public interest litigation on the new policy alleging ““violation of fundamental rights of users” by sharing confidential information.

The petitioners contend that complete security and protection of privacy of the details and data belonging to users remained an extremely significant, essential and basic feature of this Internet-based messaging service, but stands compromised under the new policy.

Calling the consent sought by the user before accepting the policy a facade, the petition stated that most users were not equipped to comprehend the terms and conditions which makes such consent deceptive in nature.

They also argue that the option of not allow sharing of information was restricted to it not being used for Facebook’s advertisements and product experience.

“Even if a person clicks on the option of not sharing information, it can still be used under WhatsApp’s new privacy policy for other purposes such as improving infrastructure and delivery systems for Facebook and it’s group companies.” Prathibha Singh, told the court on behalf of the petitioners.

“The privacy policy is in stark contrast to the privacy policy existing from July 7, 2012. In its first revised modification on August 25, 2016, Respondents (WhatsApp, Facebook Inc. and Facebook India Online Pvt. Ltd) have introduced this policy which severely compromises the rights of its users and makes the privacy rights of users completely vulnerable,” the petition, a copy of which Mint has reviewed stated.

In response to WhatsApp’s position, the chief justice of Delhi high court asked what would happen to information shared over the platform if a user chose to deactivate the service due to the new policy.

WhatsApp has been asked to file a short affidavit clarifying its stand on the new policy in terms of retaining and sharing user info shared across the platform.

Pleading it did not possess any power to address the issue, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India submitted that its role was restricted to making recommendations to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).

The case will be heard next on 21 September.

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