What the WhatsApp ruling by the Delhi High Court means in five easy steps

On August 25, WhatsApp updated its content policy for the first time after being purchased by Facebook. A PIL was filed against WhatsApp and Facebook by petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi over privacy concerns after the policy change. Yesterday, the Delhi High Court allowed WhatsApp to share data with Facebook, but imposed restrictions on the data sharing. Here is what the ruling means for users in five easy steps.

1. WhatsApp is to scrub all data collected before September 25: WhatsApp is allowed to share data with Facebook, but cannot share any data collected before September 25. This is to ensure that users who signed up for the service based on the old privacy policy, continue to be affected only by the old privacy policy. Users can delete their accounts and opt out of the service, after which WhatsApp is not allowed to retain or share any data.

2. WhatsApp can only share data collected after September 25: Even for users who do not opt out of the service, do not delete their accounts, WhatsApp can only share data collected after September 25 with Facebook. This means that even for those who accept the new terms and conditions, the data collected over the previous years cannot be shared with Facebook or any other company.

3. WhatsApp can retain and uses some kind of messages: The ruling allows WhatsApp to use the messages shared over the platform to assist users in providing the service, which is a sweeping and unclear statement. The messages will not be shared publicly. While most messages are not stored in WhatsApp servers, some kinds of messages are retained on the servers. These include high volume multimedia shares, such as videos or images. A selective approach to what messages gets retained means that WhatsApp is in some way processing the contents of the messages as well.

4. WhatsApp can use more than the messages: Apart from just the messages, there is a lot of data that WhatsApp can use to provide more targetted advertising. These include the groups that you belong to, your profile picture, contacts, and links shared over the platform. Your last seen status, online status, and who chats and calls you can also be shared with and used by Facebook. The messages themselves may not be the most valuable source of data for Facebook, and users will have to evaluate whether or not they want WhatsApp and Facebook to use their data in this manner.

5. TRAI has been asked to regulate instant messaging clients: The High Court judgement asked the government to look into the matter of introducing a statutory regulatory framework for instant messaging clients. The process will be long drawn out though, if TRAI does decide to pick up the matter. The process would mean a consultation paper will be issued seeking feedback on introducing the guidelines. Stakeholders would reply to that consultation paper, and these responses would be churned into a regulatory framework for all instant messaging applications. A previous consultation paper may cover regulations for instant messaging clients.


Published Date: Sep 24, 2016 11:31 am | Updated Date: Sep 24, 2016 11:31 am