Delhi HC asks WhatsApp to respond to concerns over its privacy policy

The Delhi high court on Wednesday sought WhatsApp’s response over on a plea challenging its decision to share user data with parent company Facebook amid growing concerns over the popular instant messaging application’s new privacy policy.

WhatsApp had made extensive changes to its privacy policy on August 25, the first time since it was acquired by Facebook in 2014, giving users option of sharing their account information with the social network giant. The messaging service gave its users a 30-day period to opt-out of the policy which expires on September 25.

Two users in Delhi moved the high court contending that WhatsApp’s policy “severely compromises the rights of its users and makes the privacy rights of users completely vulnerable”.

During a brief hearing on Wednesday, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for WhatsApp, said the application does not share users private messages, contents, photos or data with Facebook. He said WhatsApp only shares a user’s phone number and name with Facebook. He claimed his client has end-to-end encryption of all data shared among users and does not retain any data.

However, senior advocate Pratibha M Singh, representing Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, said WhatsApp was sharing the entire data with Facebook even if users opt out of the new policy.

WhatsApp has about seven crore users in India, one-tenth of its total users worldwide, Singh said adding that the consent that is asked by the application is highly deceptive.

“The manner in which so-called consent is sought to be taken is highly deceptive in as much as almost the entire community of users of WhatsApp in India are not equipped to even read, much less comprehend, the consequences of the terms and conditions on the basis whereupon, WhatsApp is pretending to obtain consent of the users,” the petition said.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in response to a notice issued by the high court, said: “consultation process is going on the issue”.

The bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal had issued a notice to the department of telecommunications (DoT) and TRAI on the public interest litigation and asked them to file their replies by September 14.

The bench has posted the matter for further hearing on September 21.

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