Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Not deferring privacy policy, WhatsApp tells Delhi high court

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Messaging service provider WhatsApp told the Delhi high court on Monday that it has not decided to defer the roll-out of a contentious privacy policy, and will continue to “persuade” users to accept it before their accounts are eventually deleted if they don’t comply.

The company has been under fire for the new privacy policy that critics say will allow it to share more data with its parent Facebook without giving users the opportunity to opt out. It has been challenged in court for abusing its market dominance, and the Union government has said the policy violates rules framed under Information Technology Act.

WhatsApp has defended its decision, saying the concerns stemmed from misinformation and the data that would be shared is limited to users interactions with business accounts.

The high court on Monday refrained from ordering a stay on the implementation of the policy. A bench of chief justice DN Patel and justice Jyoti Singh was informed by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for WhatsApp, that contrary to reports, it is not deferring its update on the privacy policy which has come into force from May 15. He said it would not straightaway delete the accounts and would rather persuade people to come on board. But, if the users are not convinced, slowly their accounts would be deleted, he added.

The platform also said there was no universal or uniform time limit after which it will start to delete accounts as each user would be dealt with on a case-to-case basis. “We have asked users to agree to policy. If they don’t agree we will delete them… there is no deferment of policy,” Sibal told the court.

The policy was first disclosed last year and was meant to be rolled out in January. The plan triggered a strong backlash and an exodus of users to other apps, after which WhatsApp deferred the deadline.

Appearing for the Centre, additional solicitor general (ASG) Chetan Sharma said the privacy policy is in violation of Indian IT laws and rules.

He said the Union government has written to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on the issue and a reply is awaited and therefore, there was a need to maintain status quo with regard to implementation of the policy.

WhatsApp, opposing the contention, said it was conforming to Indian IT law and rules and added that its policy has come into effect from May 15, but that it won’t be deleting accounts right away.

The ASG urged the court to record the statement of WhatsApp’s counsel that the firm will conform to Indian law and maintain status quo where neither the account nor the data is deleted if they revoke permission/consent for the new policy.

To this, Sibal said, “No no…we are not making any such statement. It is as good as taking a stay.”

The bench, refrained from passing any order, and posted the matter on June 3 for final arguments on the issue.

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