WhatsApp, WhatsApp Status

In a rather blunt response to a petition filed by two Indian students, over the ever-concerning issue of privacy with Facebook-owned Whatsapp, Facebook counsel K K Venugopal told a Supreme court bench, that, “Those who find the new privacy policy irksome or violative of their fundamental rights, can quit. We’ve given full freedom to users to withdraw from Facebook and WhatsApp.”.

For a bit of a background regarding this case, this case is one among several which Facebook is fighting globally, over the last year change in Whatsapp’s Privacy Policy, which gave Facebook unobstructed access to data that Whatsapp collects from users.

In this Indian case, filed by two Indian students Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, the duo has petitioned the SC over the change that happened in Whatsapp’s privacy policy, months after being acquired by Facebook. The policy change now includes a data sharing agreement between Whatsapp, and its new owner Facebook.

In Whatsapp’s defence, its counsel Kapil Sibal mentioned, that messages and voice calls over the platform were end-to-end encrypted which ensured complete privacy. With regard to the petition, he said, that since the contract between a user and WhatsApp was completely in the private domain, the policy could not be tested constitutionally by the SC and the petition filed, was not maintainable.

While Sibal gave a detailed response to the petition, Facebook counsel K K Venugopal was bluntly blunt. He remarked,

Those who find the new privacy policy irksome or violative of their fundamental rights, can quit. We’ve given full freedom to users to withdraw from Facebook and WhatsApp.

Issues with Whatsapp’s new data sharing regime aren’t new though.

Almost half a year back, the Delhi High Court had issued an order, asking Whatsapp to delete user data associated with people who had opted out of WhatsApp’s privacy policy changes before Sept. 25. The company was also quite clearly asked to not use any user data collected before Sept. 25. However, WhatsApp while speaking with Mashable, has said that the court directives do not affect it in any way since its data syncing policies came into effect after Sunday.

Later, in a statement sent to The Tech Portal, the IM platform clarified the following,

WhatsApp will comply with the order from the Delhi High Court. We plan to proceed with the privacy policy and terms update in accordance with the Court’s order. The Court’s emphasis on the importance of user choice and consent is encouraging.

Both Whatsapp and its owner Facebook are facing similar court cases and legal battles elsewhere as well. In EU for example, the European Commission has also found this new policy change unacceptable. The company however, is close to reaching a solution to that case, a point made evident by EU regulator’s lead on privacy issues with Facebook, Irwin Dixon. In a statement earlier, Dixon had said,

I think we are in agreement with the parties – WhatsApp and Facebook – that the quality of the information provided to users could have been clearer, could have been more transparent and could have been expressed in simpler terms. We are working towards a solution on that.

On the central Government’s behalf, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta said the government was committed to protect the freedom and fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution and informed the court that a regulatory regime for internet based messaging and voice call platforms would soon be put in place.

The Supreme Court bench, comprising Justices Dipak Misra, A K Sikri, Amitava Roy, A M Khanwilkar and M M Shantanagoudar, fixed May 15 for preliminary hearing.

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