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Delhi HC on WhatsApp privacy: ‘It’s voluntary, user can delete it’

The new policy verges on user surveillance, petition claims.

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KOLKATA: Amid the controversy surrounding WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy, the Delhi high court has remarked that it is a voluntary app and one can choose not to use the platform. The court was responding to a petition filed against the Facebook-owned messaging app following changes to its terms of service.

"It is a private app. Don't join it. What is your grievance?... I can't understand your concern. If you feel WhatsApp will compromise data, delete WhatsApp," a single-judge bench of justice Sanjeev Sachdeva said, according to reports.

The court further pointed out to the petitioner that if the terms and conditions of most mobile apps are read, users would be surprised as to what all they are consenting to. When the petitioner claimed that WhatsApp and Facebook analyse behaviour of users from the data that is collected, justice Sachdeva responded: “Not only WhatsApp, all applications do that… Do you use Google maps? Do you know it captures and shares your data?”

The petition, seeking an injunction order against WhatsApp implementing its new privacy policy, was filed by a lawyer, alleged it was "against the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution." The new policy verges on user surveillance and threatens India’s security, it further stated. Since the filing of the petition last week, WhatsApp has deferred the roll-out of its new privacy terms till May 15 in wake of the furore caused by it.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for WhatsApp and Facebook, submitted that the private WhatsApp chats are completely encrypted and are not viewed by either platform and aren’t shared with any third parties either. The matter has been adjourned till 25 January.

With the new policy in place, WhatsApp can share data including location and phone number with Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. It "virtually gives a 360-degree profile into a person's online activity", without any "government oversight", the petition read.

There is no clarity on the extent to which data will be shared and what will be done with the sensitive information of users. WhatsApp users have to agree to the updated policy by 8 February to keep using the app. This less than transparent policy has sparked concerns among Indian users, with many moving to alternate chat apps like Signal and Telegram. In light of this, the company has issued clarifications and run a print campaign to gain back user trust.

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