WhatsApp not mandatory, says Delhi HC as Govt expresses concern over differential treatment of Indian, European users

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Updated: January 25, 2021 7:56 PM

The Additional Solicitor General said that the concern of the Centre was that the users were not getting the option to choose.

WhatsApp privacy policy updateThe court has posted the matter for further hearing on March 1.

WhatsApp privacy policy update: As users remain upset over the new terms of service and privacy policy brought in by WhatsApp, the Delhi High Court on Monday said that downloading the instant messaging app is not mandatory. The single-bench gave the order while hearing a plea seeking an injunction against the policy updates introduced by the Facebook-owned platform. Based on the plea filed by a Chaitanya Rohilla, the HC said that since it is voluntary to download the app, a user can choose not to download WhatsApp if they want to.

This was a reiteration of what the court had said earlier on January 18.

Amidst this, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, who was representing the Centre, said that the Ministry of IT was looking at the updated policy and it had also sought the response from WhatsApp in this regard.

The Additional Solicitor General also said that the concern of the Centre was that the users were not getting the option to choose. After this, the HC said that since the Centre was considering the matter and the platform was also responding to their questions.

During the hearing, the court also said that WhatsApp was just like other applications, and all of them had their own terms and conditions, then asking the petitioner how then was the application being prejudiced against him and why he was appealing against the Facebook-owned platform.

The court has posted the matter for further hearing on March 1.

However, it is to be noted that these updated terms of service and privacy policy are applicable throughout the world, with the exception of Europe, and therefore, in a sense users in India are being discriminated against as compared to those in Europe. This argument was also put forth by the Centre in HC on Monday. The Centre had said that the policy for users in Europe specifically prohibited the use of any information shared with Facebook, but this clause was missing for users in India, even as the users in India formed a substantial part of its customers. This differential treatment between the users was also a cause for concern for the Centre, Chetan Sharma said.

Since earlier this month, WhatsApp has been under fire for its updated privacy policy as per which the user data from business accounts and their interactions with individual accounts would be shared with Facebook for providing better services. The major problem with this update however was that the users had been told that if they did not accept these terms, they would no longer be able to use the platform from February 8, when they were supposed to come into effect. However, with the outrage over the policy, the company has now postponed the implementation to May.

Why is WhatsApp’s new policy so concerning?

A key thing to be noticed is that over the years, WhatsApp has become synonymous to textual communication. Amidst this hype, WhatsApp founders sold the platform to Facebook, which itself is in trouble for numerous counts of user data misuse, and it was only a matter of time before WhatsApp would also be roped in.

Due to its popularity and widespread use, WhatsApp went from being a platform for casual conversations to a messenger that also started being used for official communication. It has now become an instant messaging platform that has been integrated into the lives of its 40 crore users in India, which WhatsApp is well aware of. A switch to any other platform would mean a major change for not only individuals at a personal level but also at a professional level.

Therefore, such unilateral, non-optional changes in its policy could be construed as WhatsApp’s attempts to strongarm users into accepting the policy updates it is bringing about.

Moreover, several users in India could also be unaware of the serious implications of such a policy and with no option to decline the policy, might end up accepting it, compromising their data due to unawareness.

Not just that. While this update was sent to users across Android and iOS platforms, it could also be looked at as something that would aid Facebook at a later stage. With Apple about to implement its own measures taking on Facebook for gathering user information without their explicit consent, the social media giant has been stressed about the impact of such a move on its revenue earnings. This update in WhatsApp’s privacy policy with no way for users to opt out could be something that Facebook might be thinking of implementing on its own app for iOS users, thereby finding a workaround to Apple’s restrictions.

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