WhatsApp's new privacy policy: Delhi HC ruling highlights flaws in license agreements

Delhi High court yesterday, issued a notice to the Centre Government to respond to the new privacy policy updated by WhatsApp.

Delhi High court yesterday, issued a notice to the Centre Government to respond to the new privacy policy updated by WhatsApp. According to a petition filed by Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi the new privacy policy threatens the privacy of WhatsApp users. They further alleged that WhatsApp, Facebook Inc and Facebook India Online Pvt Ltd 'compromise the rights of its users'.

The bench under Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra issued the notice to the government to respond to the notice by September 14. The plea added that "The privacy policy is in stark contrast to the Privacy Policy existing from July 7, 2012. In its first revised modification on August 25, 2016, Respondents (WhatsApp, Facebook Inc. and Facebook India Online Pvt Ltd) have introduced this policy which severely compromises the rights of its users and makes the privacy rights of users completely vulnerable," the plea alleged.

Senior advocates Pratibha M Singh and Sandeep Sethi, representing the petitioners, added that the changes that will come into force from September 25, are a "very serious breach of policy". The changes are a far-cry from the privacy focused stance adapted by WhatsApp. This outlines how a service has change the license agreements and change the services. The changes also point at how the policies are governed by the best interests of the company instead of the users using the service.

Even though the company added the option to opt out of sharing the data with Facebook but this still has far reaching implications for the people who will enable the data. This may not allow WhatsApp to look into the chat contents but data is a serious breach. The data mentioned that will be collected is the profile photo, online status, status message and last seen status, The email address, device data, location data, third party services integrated with WhatsApp e.g- if you share an article using WhatsApp and information on who is messaging and calling you and the groups that you belong to.


The big green button to solve it all

Regardless the magnitude of the privacy 'breach' the changes done by WhatsApp are legal and no legal way to ask WhatsApp to make the change, High Court holds the authority and jurisdiction to order the services and companies like WhatsApp and Facebook to stop active implementation of the said changes. All it needs to do is show the changes and show a big green button saying 'Agree'. The changes would have been illegal if they were done without informing the users or without the opt-out mechanism.

The way, current users are being informed about the changes in not adequate as users generally don't go through a sea of text hunting for all the implications of the changes. This is in contrast to the way the information was explained and informed to users when end-to-end encryption was being rolled out to the users with in chat notifications about the implementation of the changes on the backend and it's implications. Instead, this time the changes have been rolled into a small portion where it says that the data will be shared with Facebook along with a hyperlink to the privacy settings and some general FAQ's. It will be interesting to see how the government responds to the HC notice.

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