WhatsApp Defends Privacy Policy Update In High Court
People are seen as they check mobile devices whilst standing against an illuminated wall bearing WhatsApp Inc’s logo. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

WhatsApp Defends Privacy Policy Update In High Court

WhatsApp has told the Delhi High Court that its updated privacy policy doesn’t in any way compromise the integrity of the personal communication of users and is in line with industry standards.

The reply came on a petition challenging the new privacy policy filed by Seema Singh and advocates Meghan and Vikram Singh. The petition has found some support from the government, which told the court that it’s not in line with Indian standards.

The central government, in an affidavit filed earlier, urged the court to stop the implementation of the policy until the court rules on the petition challenging the update.

Update Provides More Transparency On Data Practices: WhatsApp

In its defence, WhatsApp told the court the new privacy policy in no way affects the privacy of the messages of a user with their friends and family. Such messages will continue to be protected by end-to-end encryption which will ensure that not even WhatsApp and Facebook will have access to them, it said.

The 2021 privacy policy update was carefully prepared and implemented to provide the users with more transparency on WhatsApp’s data practices, says the reply. And that it does not increase WhatsApp’s ability to share data with its parent Facebook Inc.

Privacy Policy Is Even Better Than Industry Standards: WhatsApp

WhatsApp urged the court not to entertain the petition, arguing it’s seeking to improperly stop the update which is a private contract between the users and the company.

The company cited examples to argue its privacy policy is not only in line but above or even better than the industry standards:

  • The company gives its users prominent, full-screen, easy-to-read notices of the 2021 update within the application.
  • It clearly sets forth WhatsApp’s data practices.
  • Users have been granted more than four months to review and consider the latest update.

WhatsApp accused the petitioners of singling out the company when the terms and privacy policy updates are standard across the industry.

If the relief sought by petitioners were to be granted based on the alleged deficiencies in the 2021 update, it would cripple the entire industry of internet-based applications and websites.
WhatsApp To Delhi High Court

The company said the petitioners are incorrect in their assertion that the update is mandatory. It is not forcing anyone to accept the privacy update and the users can choose not to do so and stop using WhatsApp, it said.

It’s not right to say the company was earlier providing users with an option to opt out from accepting the privacy policies and continue to use the service, it said. The company is not under any legal obligation to provide such an option and the law permits companies not to provide their service to users who do not accept their terms and conditions, it argued.

In fact, online platforms are often less transparent by simply implying consent through continued use of their service after a certain date—rather than prominently and clearly giving users control and choice as WhatsApp did here.
WhatsApp To Delhi High Court

In January this year, WhatsApp had updated its privacy policy to say it now reserves the right to share some user data with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram. WhatsApp had asked users to agree to the new policy by Feb. 8 but later pushed that deadline to May 15. The text for the policy is different for EU users compared with the rest of the world.

According to the latest available information, WhatsApp says accounts of users who don’t accept the update will not be deleted. However, some of features of WhatsApp will not be available for them gradually over time.

The PIL is currently being heard by the division bench of the Delhi High Court. The Supreme Court is also hearing a separate challenge to the privacy policy.

The next date of hearing in the Delhi High Court is not known yet.

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