Plea in SC: Stay WhatsApp privacy policy that affects 400 mn Indians

New Delhi: A plea has been filed in the Supreme Court seeking an interim stay on the operation of new privacy policy of WhatsApp, the applicaton with more than 400 million users in the country.

The intervention application has been filed by Internet Freedom Foundation in the 2017 matter of Karmanya Singh Sareen and others, which was against the 2016 privacy policy of the company. This matter is being heard by the apex court.

The petitioner requested the top court to exercise its powers to protect the fundamental right to privacy of over 400 million Indians by staying the implementation of WhatsApp policy. The plea contended that it is pertinent to note that WhatsApp has simultaneously issued a separate (and more privacy-respecting) 2021 policy for countries in the European region.

“The new 2021 Policy has exacerbated the status quo by further expanding the categories of metadata collected by WhatsApp and shared with the Facebook Companies, and by granting third parties such as Facebook access to the actual content of messages shared by users with business accounts on WhatsApp”, said the plea filed through advocate TVS Raghavendra Sreyas.

The organisation has argued that application has been necessitated by the imminent harm which is likely to result from the implementation of WhatsApp’s new Privacy Policy scheduled to go into effect on February 8, but reportedly deferred till May 15.

The petitioner said there exists a strong prima facie case that WhatsApp has exploited its established market dominance in India to violate the privacy of its users through expansive data collection and data sharing with Facebook.

The plea contended that WhatsApp cannot be treated like any other private messaging service provider and allowed to engage in predatorial conduct because the Competition Commission of India has prima facie found that it holds a dominant position in the relevant market of Over the Top (OTT) messaging services for smartphones in India.

The plea contended that a dominant OTT platform such as WhatsApp should not be allowed to function in a manner that forces Indian citizens to waive their fundamental right to privacy.

“The 2021 Policy provides more details about the usage and log information, device and connection information, and location information collected by WhatsApp, and reveals the highly invasive and granular nature of metadata collected by WhatsApp”, said the plea.

The plea urged the top court to direct WhatsApp to provide an opt-out clause, which was originally present for 30 days when the 2016 Privacy Policy was introduced. “Such an option will allow users to opt out of the new data collection/retention/sharing arrangement that was introduced by WhatsApp in its 2016 Privacy Policy, while continuing to be able to access the service”, added the plea.

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