Technology

WhatsApp’s differential treatment of Indian users a cause for concern: Centre says in Delhi HC


The privacy policy offers to European users prohibition of any information shared with Facebook, while this is not offered to Indian citizens, says the Additional Solicitor General

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The Centre on Monday told the Delhi High Court that WhatsApp’s differential treatment of Indian users against their European users when it came to its privacy policy was a “cause for concern to the government”.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Central government, said, “the privacy policy offered by WhatsApp to its European users, specifically prohibition of any information shared with Facebook, while this provision is not present in the privacy policy offered to Indian citizens who form a very substantial part of WhatsApp user base”.

“This differential treatment is a cause for concern to the government,” the ASG said.

“The government is also concerned in the way Indian users have been subjected to these changes rather unilaterally. By not providing the Indian users the ability to opt out of this data being shared with other Facebook companies, WhatsApp prima facie seems to be treating Indian users with an all-or-nothing approach,” ASG Sharma said.

This, Mr. Sharma, said may infringe on Indian users’ interest in relation to information privacy and information security.

Though the issue “is between two private parties”, Mr. Sharma said, “the scope and expanse of WhatsApp makes it a germane ground that reasonable and cogent policies are put in place which is being done by the Personal Data Protection Bill”.

“The Personal Data Protection Bill is being discussed by the Joint Committee of the Parliament,” Mr. Sharma added.

Hearing adjourned to March 1

Taking note of the fact that the matter is being looked into at the highest level, Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva adjourned the hearing in the case for March 1, by which the Centre will place on record the steps being taken on the issue.

In the meantime, Justice Sachdeva declined to grant the plea of petitioner Manohar Lal to issue notice to WhatsApp.

During the hearing, WhatsApp counsel submitted that a communication had been received from the Central government seeking certain information on the privacy policy on January 18.

Mr. Lal, in his petition, has claimed that WhatsApp’s new privacy policy violates the right to privacy guaranteed under the Constitution. It said the new policy “virtually gives a 360-degree profile into a person’s online activity” without there being any supervision of the government.

The plea, which was filed earlier this month, had said that WhatsApp changed its privacy policy in an arbitrary manner and had even made it compulsory for its users to accept its terms and conditions, failing which the accounts and services would be terminated after February 8, 2021 for the respective user.

Later, on January 16, WhatsApp took to micro-blogging site Twitter to clarify that, “No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8 and we’ll be moving back our business plans until after May”.

Mr. Lal’s plea sought direction to issue guidelines to ensure such change in privacy policy by WhatsApp were carried out strictly in accordance with the right guaranteed in the Constitution.

“WhatsApp has made a mockery out of our fundamental right to privacy while discharging a public function in India, besides jeopardising the national security of the country by sharing, transmitting and storing the users data in some another country and that data, in turn, will be governed by the laws of that foreign country,” the petition said.

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