WhatsApp is ‘tricking’ users into accepting its new privacy policy, Centre tells Delhi HC

WhatsApp is ‘tricking’ users into accepting its new privacy policy, Centre tells Delhi HC

In affidavit submitted Wednesday, Centre said WhatsApp was indulging in 'anti-user' practices and forcing them to accept the updated policy that had earlier raised data privacy concerns.


WhatsApp icon on a phone | Representational Image | Bloomberg

New Delhi: WhatsApp is obtaining “trick consent” from users for its updated privacy policy and indulging in “anti-users practices”, the central government told the Delhi High Court Wednesday.

In an affidavit filed in the high court, the Centre submitted that “millions of WhatsApp existing users, those who have not accepted the updated 2021 privacy policy, are being bombarded with notifications on everyday basis”.

The Centre further asserted that WhatsApp has “unleashed its digital prowess to the unsuspecting existing users and would like to force them to accept the updated 2021 privacy policy by flashing such notifications at regular intervals”.

“The game plan is very clear, i.e., to transfer the entire existing user base committed to updated 2021 privacy policy before the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill becomes law,” the affidavit added.

The Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2019, and intends to provide for protection of privacy of individuals and their personal data. It, however, hasn’t become a law yet.

The Centre has further asserted that WhatsApp’s privacy policy violates the Information Technology Rules, 2011.

The affidavit relies on the competition regulator Competition Commission of India’s March order directing a probe into WhatsApp’s privacy policy.

The affidavit, therefore, asked for a direction to WhatsApp to not implement its new policy and terms of service till the case is pending, and also to not send “pushing notifications” to its existing users on the update to the privacy policy.

It also asked for the number of times such notifications have been pushed everyday and the “conversion date” — the number of times these notifications led to the acceptance of the new policy.

The affidavit was submitted on a petition filed by lawyer Harsha Gupta challenging WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

Commenting on the Centre’s affidavit, senior advocate Vivek Sood, who is appearing for Gupta, told ThePrint: “Centre’s affidavit is well-founded and supports a citizen’s right to privacy. The privacy policy violates not just the current IT rules but also the law of proportionality laid down by SC.”

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WhatsApp defended policy last month

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook Inc., had updated its privacy policy in January this year, reserving the right to share some user data with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram.

WhatsApp had asked users to agree to the new policy by 8 February, but later pushed that deadline to 15 May. After facing severe backlash, WhatsApp assured users that not accepting the terms will not lead to deletion of accounts.

WhatsApp had also defended the policy last month, telling the high court that its updated privacy policy doesn’t in any way compromise the integrity of the personal communication of users and is in line with industry standards.

Meanwhile, WhatsApp filed a petition in the Delhi High Court last week, challenging Rule 4(2) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The rule requires social media intermediaries with large user bases (denoted as ‘significant’ social media intermediaries) to enable tracing of the originator of information on their platform when required.

In response, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology issued a statement taking a shot at WhatsApp’s own privacy policy, saying, “At one end, WhatsApp seeks to mandate a privacy policy wherein it will share the data of all its user with its parent company, Facebook, for marketing and advertising purposes. On the other hand, WhatsApp makes every effort to refuse the enactment of the Intermediary Guidelines which are necessary to uphold law and order and curb the menace of fake news.”

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