Do we need to worry about WhatsApp's new privacy policy?
roshan raj 6 Dec 2016

Do we need to worry about WhatsApp's new privacy policy?

The world at large takes privacy for granted. This is applicable while using social networking websites and instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, Telegram etc. For instance, we freely share photos, information which may be confidential, videos over WhatsApp with another person without worrying that they may be further used by the service provider itself.

This proposition saw light of the day on 24 August, when Facebook owned WhatsApp, sent a notification to its users, asking them to accept recent changes in its terms and conditions. Most users agreed and accepted the new notification and through that unintentionally allowed for WhatsApp to pass on their information to its parent company Facebook for commercial and advertising use.

Under WhatApp’s new privacy policy, it collects users’ information and shares it with Facebook and all its group companies for the purpose of commercial advertising and marketing on its platform. This information would include a users’ phone number, email ID, photos, location data, videos and any other information shared by the user over the messaging service.

WhatsApp however, allows users to not accept the new policy by making changes in the settings and unchecking on the box allowing for sharing of information.

WhatApp’s new privacy policy seeks to:

  • Collect all information including names, phone numbers, messages shared over the platform, contact list etc. relating to every Whatsapp account
  • Use all such information to help in operating, improving, understanding, supporting, commercial marketing and advertising of its services including Facebook and Facebook family of companies
  • Even if a person deletes the WhatsApp application, the past information can still be retained for an undefined period, unless the user consciously deletes the entire account itself.

The question which arises from introducing such an update is whether it fits India’s legal provisions or invades a users’ privacy. Is sending the user an option to upgrade to its privacy policy knowing fully well that most users will not be able to comprehend that their privacy is at stake, legal? Is this form of obtaining consent, without providing adequate information to the user about what the change entails valid?

While most legal and technological experts are battling this out, the issue has also made its way to the court. On 30 August, the Delhi high court agreed to hear a petition challenging WhatApp’s new privacy policy in the ways that it compromises on a users’ privacy and fundamental rights.

The petition brought by two students, alleged violation of fundamental rights of users under the new policy which shared their confidential information with Facebook. It further criticized the messaging service which has highlighted safeguarding privacy of users as its essential feature for the way it which it was introduced- through an update/notification.

For all those who accepted the update and feel that this amounts to compromise of their policy- unclick on the ‘share my information’ option in WhatsApp settings, till we have any further clarity on the issue, either from the court or through experts.

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