2 Indian Students File PIL against Facebook over WhatsApp’s Privacy Policy Updates


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Two Indian students, Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, have filed a Public Interest Litigation similar to class action in the Delhi High Court, challenging WhatsApp’s privacy policy as a part of which it can share information of millions of users with Facebook.

The messaging service that is owned by Facebook, was asked to roll back its recent policy updates. The PIL also requests the government to frame guidelines for messaging apps so that the privacy of the users isn’t compromised.

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Image source: Flickr

A two-judge bench of Chief Justice G. Rohini and Sangita Dhingra Sehgal, furnished notices to Facebook, WhatsApp, the government, and India’s telecommunication regulators, requesting them to prepare their pleas for the case that is due for a hearing later this week.

On August 25, WhatsApp made major alterations in its privacy policy, enabling the company to share personal information of users including their phone numbers with Facebook, for “relevant ads” to come up on their timelines. It was claimed that these changes were made so that individual account information could be used to improve Facebook ads and product experience. This move was intended to be advantageous for the users because data-sharing would enable users to see advertisements from companies they are familiar with rather than enterprises they’ve never heard of. After it experienced a severe backlash against this move, WhatsApp reiterated that the privacy policy changes were compliant with the law. The company also announced on its website that users would be able to opt out of the privacy policy by September 25, “After you agree to our updated Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, you will have an additional 30 days to make this choice by going to Settings > Account > Share my account info in the app.”

At a recent court hearing in Delhi, WhatsApp, which caters to more than 100 million users in India per month, clarified that it does not intend to share user content such as messages, photographs and documents.

Karmanya, who is a 19-year-old engineering student and 22-year-old Shreya, asserted in their petition that the term “user consent” cannot be employed in the Indian context as a lot of users aren’t able to completely comprehend the repercussions of such major privacy policy changes. They added that complete privacy was a USP employed by WhatsApp for luring in their massive user base and the recent policy updates are in opposition to their earlier statements about end-to-end encryption.

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