The petitioners have sought that the court direct the Ministry as well as WhatsApp to provide users an option to opt out of sharing their data with any company.
The Ministry has sought details of the information that WhatsApp has been gathering and monitoring for its users in India. (Image: Reuters)
The petitioners have sought that the court direct the Ministry as well as WhatsApp to provide users an option to opt out of sharing their data with any company, including WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook. Moreover, the plea also seeks direction to the Ministry for creation of guidelines, rules or regulations that would safeguard the data and privacy of all Indians from apps and platforms operating in India.
Appearing for the Centre, Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma told the two-judge bench that a similar issue was also being taken up by a single-judge bench at the court and in that case, the Government of India had stated that the Ministry had taken cognizance of the issue and was looking into it, while also having sought responses to certain questions from the messaging platform.
The plea said that while WhatsApp has been releasing different policies time and again over the years, it has always given its users the option to opt out of the policy update without restricting access to its service, but with the latest policy notified on January 4, this option was not provided.
While this policy has been notified to Android and iOS users across the world, the petitioners and Government of India have some leverage against WhatsApp due to the fact that users in Europe have the option to opt out while still being able to use the app. Moreover, the fact that India is the largest market for WhatsApp is also a strong point in the favour of the Government of India.
The Ministry has sought details of the information that WhatsApp has been gathering and monitoring for its users in India. On the other hand, petitioners as well as several industry bodies have been trying to urge the Centre to seek either Europe-like exemptions from this policy, or ban WhatsApp and Facebook completely, a step which is not too far-fetched for Centre considering the recent multiple bans it placed on Chinese apps for alleged violation of user privacy.
Amid all of this, lakhs of users have begun to look for alternative instant messaging apps like Signal and Telegram, both of which have also been rolling out numerous new features that would make them more lucrative over the other. Recently, Telegram has played a trump card in the list of features and rolled out a tool that would allow users to transfer their entire chats from WhatsApp as is to the chat windows in Telegram, so that if users choose to leave the Facebook-owned platform, they would not have to lose their chats or refer to a third document for previous conversations.
Meanwhile, WhatsApp has had to take a step back due to the ire of the users worldwide, despite having issued several clarifications, announcing that it would implement the policy in May instead of in February as had been originally scheduled.