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User info upto Sep 25 not be shared with FB: HC to WhatsApp

New Delhi: In a significant judgement, WhatsApp, an instant messaging software, was today restrained by Delhi High Court from sharing with Facebook user information existing upto September 25 when its new privacy policy comes into effect.

In order “to protect interest of users”, a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Sangita Dhingra Sehgal directed WhatsApp to delete information and data of persons who opt out of the service before September 25 and not to share it with social networking site Facebook or its group companies.

In the case of users who choose to continue using the app, their information, data and details existing upto September 25, from when the new policy comes into effect, shall not be shared with the social networking site, the court told WhatsApp.

The directions came on a PIL by Karmanya Singh Sareen, a second year student of Imperial College, London, and Shreya Sethi, final year law student in Amity, who had challenged WhatsApp’s new privacy policy.

In the 15-page verdict, directions were also issued to the Centre and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to examine the feasibility of bringing the functioning of internet messaging applications like WhatsApp under the statutory regulatory framework.

Senior advocate Pratibha M Singh, who had argued on behalf of the two students, said “it is a pathbreaking judgement protecting the interest of Whatsapp users.

“It is a major dent on their policy, definitely. WhatsApp will have to make changes to its policy to incorporate the directions of the court. For future, it will create sensitivity among people that all their data could be shared with Facebook. If users make a conscious choice to share, then it’s fine,” she told PTI after the verdict.

The bench said it was issuing the directions as WhatsApp, while launching its app initially, had provided complete security and protection of privacy, as also because the issue relating to an individual’s right to privacy is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court.

“Having regard to the complete security and protection of privacy provided by WhatsApp initially while launching WhatsApp and keeping in view that the issue relating to the existence of an individual’s right of privacy as a distinct basis of a cause of action is yet to be decided by a larger bench of Supreme Court, we consider it appropriate to issue the following directions to protect interest of users of WhatsApp,” the bench said.
Disposing of the plea, the court said users cannot

contend that the company shall be compelled to continue with the same terms of service as was there at the time of launching of the platform. Under the earlier privacy policy, there was complete protection of user privacy.

“We are, therefore, of the view that it is always open to the existing users of WhatsApp who do not want their information to be shared with Facebook, to opt for deletion of their account,” the court said.

The petitioners had alleged that the new privacy policy violated fundamental rights of users by allowing confidential information to be shared with Facebook.

WhatsApp had earlier informed the court that when a user account was deleted, the information of that person was no longer retained on its servers.