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‘WhatsApp’s new privacy policy gives it 360 degree view of users’ online activity’: Petition in Delhi HC

WhatsApp, Threema

WhatsApp’s latest update to its privacy policy is an “absolute violation” of the right to privacy, and gives the company a a 360-degree profile of a person’s online activity, a petition filed in the Delhi High Court on Thursday contended. It prayed for the IT Ministry to lay down guidelines to prevent WhatsApp from sharing its users’ data with any third party, or Facebook and its companies for any purpose whatsoever. It also urged the court to stop the roll out of WhatsApp’s privacy policy with immediate effect. Bar and Bench first reported this.

Earlier this month, the popular messaging service alerted users of updates to its privacy policy and terms of service, which will go live on February 8. The updates, which are mandatory for users to accept for using the service, allow for a closer integration of WhatsApp into the larger Facebook ecosystem and group of companies.

The updated privacy policy said that the service will use a device’s IP address, and other information like phone number area codes to estimate their general location, even if a user doesn’t use the its location-related features. Businesses that users interact with on the platform may share information about their interactions with users, with WhatsApp (more details below).

The petition was filed by Advocate Chaitanya Rohilla, through Advocate Manohar Lal. MediaNama has seen a copy of the petition.

WhatsApp’s privacy policy ‘jeopardises’ India’s national security: Petitioner

The petition said that these provisions in WhatsApp’s privacy policy have “made a mockery out of our fundamental right to privacy”. It also jeopardises India’s national security by “sharing, transmitting and storing the users data in some another country and that data in turn will be governed by the laws of that foreign country,” the petition alleged. Other allegations:

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  • WhatsApp ‘take it or leave it’ approach is ‘browbeating’: Since users will have to agree to the updates policy to continue using the service beyond February 8, the petition contended that “this type of arbitrary behaviour and brow beating can not be accepted in a democracy and is completely ultravires and against the fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution Of India”.
  • Takes away user choice: “WhatsApp through the Policy is clearly trying to share its users data to the parent company [Facebook],” the petition said, adding that other companies will eventually use that data to serve their “vested interests”.
  • ‘Under Facebook’s constant surveillance’: “If WhatsApp is stating that it is now going to use the users data and share it with the largest social network in the world, which is embedded on every second website and collect data from there as well, the integration of this data will essentially mean that the user is perpetually under the surveillance of the Facebook group of companies,” the petition alleged.
  • EU vs rest of the world: WhatsApp’s latest policy updates will not roll out in the EU, owing to stronger data protection regulations in the bloc. “That brazenly, in dire contrast to other jurisdictions, especially in the Europe this updated Privacy Policy has not been made applicable by WhatsApp because of their strict GDPR laws,” the petition said.

“It is further submitted that the sharing of users’ data by WhatsApp to third parties and Facebook is in itself illegal because WhatsApp can only use the information for purposes that are reasonably linked to the purpose for which the information was given. A user who has signed up to WhatsApp because they want to communicate. Users’ provide their data to WhatsApp for this, whereas WhatsApp is using this data and sharing it with third-part services and Facebook to run their own businesses. It emphatically implies that the purpose that WhatsApp is using the information for is not reasonably connected to the purpose for which the user is giving that information to WhatsApp.” — from the petition

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy

Some provisions in WhatsApp’s latest privacy policy:

  • Granular permissions for location: WhatsApp said it has optional features that require the collection of additional information. If users choose to not provide the information required for the functioning of those features, they will be unable to use it.
  • Usage and log information: The updated privacy policy, unlike the previous one, goes into detail about what data it collects for telemetry and analytics. “We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information.” This includes data about how users use WhatsApp; their service settings; how they interact with others on WhatsApp (including when interacting with a business); time, frequency and duration of activity; log files and diagnostic, crash, website and performance logs and reports.
  • WhatsApp will stop identifying non-users in users’ address books: The app currently allows users to share contact cards from their devices’ address books. The updated privacy policy says non-users of WhatsApp will not be identified. ” If any of your contacts aren’t yet using our Services, we’ll manage this information for you in a way that ensures those contacts cannot be identified by us,” it says.
  • Use of WhatsApp by businesses: Businesses on WhatsApp may share information about their interaction with regular users to the company. Additionally, the company alerts its users that content shared with business accounts could be accessible to third-party service providers as well.

More details here.

Also read: 

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