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PIL against WhatsApp asks for prohibition on user data sharing: report

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Following the recent privacy policy changes by WhatsApp which intended to collect user data for targeted advertising and analytics, a petition has been filed with Delhi HC seeking prohibition of collection and sharing of user information with Facebook or its family of companies, according to a report by LiveLaw. The PIL, filed by two students—Karmanya Singh and Shreya Sethi—stated that the “drastic changes” in WhatsApp’s privacy policy is a U-turn from the earlier privacy policy that existed since 7th July 2012. The newly introduced changes “severely compromises the rights of its users and makes Privacy rights of users complete vulnerable,” added the petition.

The Delhi HC after reviewing the petition has issued a notice yesterday to DoT and TRAI to look into the alleged privacy violation by Facebook and WhatsApp. WhatsApp once contended that it shall not collect or store any kind of user data and that it has no plans to do so. The company issued these statements after many critics and users raised concerns about their privacy when Facebook acquired WhtasApp in 2014. However, after more than a year of the acquisition, the recent changes threaten to take away protection of privacy and data of users, added the petition compiled by LiveLaw.

WhatsApp has notified privacy policy changes via push notifications, and also provided an option to opt-out from data collection; however a user’s phone number is still being shared to Facebook. Users can only opt-out of targeted advertising on Facebook via analytics performed on a user’s WhatsApp usage patterns. This according to the petition is an illusion or “façade” being created by Facebook, since its asking for user consent before altering what WhatsApp stood by since its inception–protection of a user’s private information.

“..the manner in which so-called consent is sought to be taken is highly deceptive in as much as almost the entire community of Users of WhatsApp in India are not equipped to even read, much less comprehend, the consequences of the terms and conditions on the basis whereupon, WhatsApp is pretending to obtain consent of the Users,” LiveLaw observed from the petition

What the petition is asking for

According to the LiveLaw complied report the petition asks for:

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  • Issuance of a written prohibition or direction prohibiting WhatsApp, Facebook, and associated companies from sharing user data to companies for advertising, in any manner whatsoever.
  • Facebook, WhatsApp, and associate companies could be directed by an appropriate regulatory or statutory authority to respect and protect user’s privacy. These authorities should also look to safeguard a citizen’s private information including audio, video, text, and any other forms of private data by framing privacy rules/regulations/guidelines for any kind of mobile application that provides one-to-one messaging.
  • Issuance of a written direction or guideline for Internet-based messing services like WhatsApp mandating them to fully and specifically disclose what kind of data will be collected, and obtain consent from a user before carrying out any such data collection. Users who wish to not share any private information with companies, should still have access to the messaging service

Also Read: SC dismisses case asking for Whatsapp licensing in India, but this isn’t over yet

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