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Facebook does NOT have access to private user data: WhatsApp tells Delhi HC

News Agencies | Updated on: 15 September 2016, 12:59 IST

On 14 September, instant messaging platform WhatsApp opposed a plea that was filed in the Delhi High Court, alleging that because of the new privacy policy announced by Facebook, the privacy of Whatsapp users was being threatened.

WhatsApp maintained that all the regulations were in place and Facebook does not have access to any data, as the app provides end-to-end encryption.

WhatsApp had made extensive changes to its privacy policy on 25 August, the first time since it was acquired by Facebook, giving users the option of sharing their account information with the social network giant. The messaging service gave its users 30 days till 25 September to opt out of the policy.

The submission was made before a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal, who were hearing a PIL against WhatsApp's recent decision to share user data with parent company Facebook.

Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for WhatsApp, said there are government regulations in place and the application does not share users private messages, contents, photos or data with Facebook.

He said WhatsApp only shares a user's name and the phone number with Facebook. "WhatsApp does not have access to any data as it provides end-to-end encryption".

"We only have access to the person's name and number which is also obtained by online consent. We are abiding by the central government's regulations for messenger apps. We are not dealing with sensitive information at all," Luthra said, adding that "if any of the user wants to opt out of the new policy, he/she cannot be forced to not choose that option".

To this, the court asked WhatsApp to file a short affidavit before 20 September explaining the factual position with regard to the concerns raised in the writ petition.

However, senior advocate Pratibha M Singh, appearing for petitioners Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi, argued the messaging service was sharing the entire data with Facebook even if users opt out of the new policy.

The petitioners, users of the popular instant messaging service, have alleged that WhatsApp, Facebook Inc and Facebook India Online Pvt Ltd's new private policy "compromises the rights of its users", which is also a "very serious breach of policy".

Central government standing counsel Kriti Man Singh, appearing for Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), in response to a notice issued seeking explanation on the modification of the new privacy policy, said "consultation process in this regard is going on the issue".

The court then said if by 25 September, "you do not take any decision, then the petitioners' concerns will remain unresolved."

The court will take up the matter for further hearing on 21 September.

During the brief hearing, Luthra refuted the petitioners' allegations that 13-year-olds or teenagers were using WhatsApp messenger and the data could be misused.

"You cannot get a SIM in this country till you are 18 years old. How can 13-year-old use WhatsApp? And nobody forces anyone to use WhatsApp," he said.

The plea has claimed 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 new policy, which comes into force from September 25, has sought to change the "most valuable, basic and essential feature" of WhatsApp, which commenced operations in 2010, by "unilaterally threatening to take away the protection to privacy of details and data of its users and sharing the same with Facebook and all its group companies including for the purpose of commercial advertising and marketing."

The plea sought direction to prohibit WhatsApp, Facebook Inc and Facebook India Online Pvt Ltd from sharing, in any manner, the details and data of every kind of subscribers with any entity, including Facebook or its family of companies.

--PTI

First published: 15 September 2016, 12:59 IST
 
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