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WhatsApp Treating Indian Users Differently from Europeans Matter of Concern: Govt Tells Delhi High Court

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The Centre told the Delhi High Court on Monday that WhatsApp is treating Indian users differently from Europeans by opting out of its current privacy policy, which is a matter of concern to the government and it is investigating the issue.

The central government told the high court that it was also a matter of concern that Indian apps were “unilaterally” subject to the instant messaging platform’s shift in privacy policy.

The representations were made by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma before Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva during the hearing of a petition by a lawyer against the new WhatsApp privacy policy owned by Facebook.

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The court repeated what it had said on January 18, at the beginning of the hearing, that WhatsApp was a private app and it was optional to download it or not.

“It is not mandatory to download it. Every other app has similar terms and conditions regarding sharing of user information with others,” the court said and wondered why the complainant questioned WhatsApp’s rules.

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The court also noted that Parliament was debating the Personal Data Privacy Bill and the government was looking into concerns presented in the plea.

ASG Sharma told the court during the hearing that WhatsApp prima facie seems to be handling users with a “all or nothing approach” by not offering Indian users the opportunity to opt out of sharing their data with other Facebook firms.

As far as the government is concerned, while the privacy policy provided by WhatsApp to its European users expressly forbids the use of any information exchanged with Facebook corporations for the purposes of the company, this provision is not included in the privacy policy offered to Indian people who form a very significant part of the user base of WhatsApp.

“This differential treatment is certainly a cause of concern for the government. It is also a matter of concern for the government that Indian users are being unilaterally subjected to the changes in the privacy policy,” the ASG told the court.

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This leverages WhatsApp’s social significance to push users into a deal that may breach their personal privacy and information security rights,”This leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain which may infringe on their interests in information privacy and information security,”

He also told the court that while the problem was between two private entities – WhatsApp and its users – the reach and scope of WhatsApp “make it a germane ground that reasonable and cogent policies are put in place which is being done by the Personal Data Protection Bill and discussions are very much on”

Sharma said the government was already investigating the problem and sent WhatsApp a message requesting some details.

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Kapil Sibal, senior advocate, appearing for WhatsApp, told the court that the correspondence was received and will be replied.

Thereafter, on March 1, the court cited the matter for hearing.

The petition, by a lawyer, argued that, under the Constitution, the revised privacy policy violated the right of consumers to privacy.

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The lawsuit argued that WhatsApp’s latest privacy policy requires direct access to the online activities of a customer without any government control.

Users can either approve it or leave the software under the current rules, but they can not choose not to share their data with other apps owned by Facebook or third parties.

Ayeni Sylvester
the authorAyeni Sylvester

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