Tue. Oct 19th, 2021

The Indian government, on Monday, informed Delhi High Court that WhatsApp’s treatment in regards to opting out of its new privacy policy is different for Indians when compared to Europeans and this is concerning.

The central government told the court that it is looking into the issue as the disparity in treatment is a serious matter of concern. It said that the users in India were being “unilaterally” subjected to the change in the privacy policy by WhatsApp, whereas it’s not the same for Europeans.

As per PTI report, the submissions were made before Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma during the hearing of a petition by a lawyer against WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. The new policy has been receiving a strong backlash in India soon after its rollout.

Under the new policy, users can either accept it or leave the app, but they cannot opt not to share their data with other Facebook-owned or third-party apps.

What happened at the hearing?

At the beginning of the hearing, the court reiterated its previous statement that WhatsApp is not a mandatory-to-download app, it’s people’s personal choice to download it or not. The court also noted that the Personal Data Protection Bill is being considered by the Parliament and government is already looking into the issues highlighted in the plea. 

ASG Sharma told the court that by not giving an option to opt-out of the policy appears to be treating users with an “all or nothing approach”. He said, “insofar the government is concerned, while the privacy policy offered by WhatsApp to its European users specifically prohibits the use of any information shared with other Facebook companies.” However, this clause was not found in the privacy policy terms shown to the Indian users. 

“This differential treatment is certainly a cause of concern for the government. It is also a matter of concern for the government that Indian users are being unilaterally subjected to the changes in the privacy policy,” the ASG told the court.

“This leverages the social significance of WhatsApp to force users into a bargain which may infringe on their interests in information privacy and information security,” he added.

Sharma also said the government was already looking into the issue and has sent a communication to WhatsApp about the same. Kapil Sibbal, senior advocate appearing for WhatsApp told the court that the communication has been received and the company will have a response soon. 

The court, thereafter, scheduled the matter for hearing on March 1.

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