Delhi high court order on WhatsApp policy set for Friday

The policy, set to take effect on 25 September, allows WhatsApp to collect and share information about its users with its owner Facebook Inc. and all its group companies

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The Delhi high court will deliver on Friday its order on a public interest litigation (PIL) questioning messaging platform WhatsApp’s privacy policy, two days before the policy takes effect.

The court was considering a PIL filed by two students—Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi—against the new privacy policy released on 25 August, which allegedly violates the fundamental rights of users by allowing confidential information to be shared with WhatsApp’s affiliates.

This policy allows WhatsApp to collect and share information about its users with its owner Facebook Inc. and all its group companies for the purpose of commercial advertising and marketing on its platform. This includes sharing of phone numbers and data on users’ contacts.

The policy is set to take effect on 25 September. To be sure, it gives users the option of not accepting the terms. Such users can go to WhatsApp settings and uncheck a box allowing for sharing of information (sharing is the default option).

A bench comprising chief justice G. Rohini and justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal asked WhatsApp if user information is retained after an account is deleted. WhatsApp informed the court that when a user account was deleted, the information of that person was no longer retained on its servers.

This plea was contested by senior lawyer Prathiba Singh, representing the petitioners.

“The WhatsApp policy is quite confusing for the ordinary user. There’s more clarity needed on the aspect of data sharing. If information to be shared is only phone numbers as was argued by WhatsApp, then users may be less worried,” she said, adding that “the court has heard arguments and listed case for orders on 23 September”.

In its affidavit furnished to the court, WhatsApp reiterated its privacy policy, saying that nothing posted by users on the messaging platform will be shared with Facebook and other sister applications for “others to see”. Mint has a copy of this affidavit.

The affidavit adds that users can opt out of sharing their information with Facebook for improving Facebook advertisements and products experiences. This comes with the caveat that Facebook will still receive this information for other services like improving infrastructure and delivery systems, understanding how Facebook’s services are used, securing systems, and fighting spam, abuse or infringement.

It also says that users grant WhatsApp a licence to “use, reproduce, distribute, create derivative of the works of, display and perform the information (including the content) that the user uploads, submits, stores, sends or receives” on the platform. This licence is “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable”.

The petitioners, in their response to this affidavit, have called WhatsApp’s privacy terms “deliberately worded in the widest possible manner, only in order to confuse and confound the users into agreeing to terms which are beyond their comprehension”.

In their writ petition, they said the consent sought from users for enforcing the policy was only a facade because most cannot comprehend the terms and conditions.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had earlier informed the Delhi high court that it did not have powers to tackle this issue.

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