If you dont like privacy policy change, quit WhatsApp: Facebook Legal Team

Facebook's stance on the issue of WhatsApp's privacy policy is that you either accept it or leave the service

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Highlights

    • Accept  Privacy Policy or Quit WhatsApp
    • Whatsapp facing trouble in EU as well
    • Preliminary hearing on May 15

In a severe blow to public faith, Facebook legal counsel K.K. Venugopal told a Supreme Court bench that “Those who find the new privacy policy irksome or violative of their fundamental rights, can quit. We’ve given full freedom to users to withdraw from Facebook and WhatsApp.” The statement, reported by Economic Times, represents a bleak outlook towards user interests. Shreya Sethi and Karmanya Singh Sareen had filed the petition with the Supreme Court of India against Whatsapp, alleging that the commercial use of 157 million users’ personal data was a serious breach of privacy.

Trouble began for Whatsapp when earlier last year, the company implemented a policy change where they declared that user data would now be shared between the messaging app and Facebook. This, the End User License Agreement (EULA) said, was to “improve services to be given in future to users.” The Delhi High Court instructed Facebook and Whatsapp in an order that said “If the users opt for completely deleting “WhatsApp” account before 25.09.2016, the information/data/details of such users should be W.P.(C) No.7663/2016 Page 15 of 15 deleted completely from “WhatsApp” servers and the same shall not be shared with the “Facebook” or any one of its group companies… So far as the users who opt to remain in “WhatsApp” are concerned, the existing information/data/details of such users upto 25.09.2016 shall not be shared with “Facebook” or any one of its group companies.” Facebook justified this exchange of information by saying that using this information (such as log records, online status, phone numbers, etc) sharing was aimed at improving ad experience on Facebook.

In today’s hearing in the Supreme Court, Whatsapp Counsel Kabil Sibal assured the court that voice calls and messages shared over Whatsapp were encrypted end-to-end, ensuring complete privacy. He went on to assert that the petition filed by students Karmanya Singh Sareen and Shreya Sethi was not maintainable because the contract between a user and Whatsapp lay completely in the private domain, beyond the reaches of constitutional scrutiny of the Supreme Court. Facebook’s legal counsel K. K. Venugopal, however wasn’t as pragmatic with his words and went on to say that “Those who find the new privacy policy irksome or violative of their fundamental rights, can quit. We’ve given full freedom to users to withdraw from Facebook and WhatsApp.” In essence, the message that has been sent to the users is to either get on board with having their private data used for corporate gains or get off the platform.

While Facebook’s stance is incredibly brazen in India, amounting to a “take it or leave it” attitude, the City of Hamburg was the first to rule against the Corporation back in September 2016.  It ordered Facebook to stop collecting the user data from Whatsapp and to delete any data it had already collected. The second blow was dealt by European Union privacy watchdogs who asked the companies to stop any data exchange while they investigated the compliance of this move with EU laws. Later, in November of 2016 Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner of the United Kingdoms ordered Facebook to halt collection of any data till it had obtained users’ consent. She was quoted saying “I don’t think users have been given enough information about what Facebook plans to do with their information, and I don’t think WhatsApp has got valid consent from users to share the information.” In January 2017, The Federation of German Consumer Organizations has filed a lawsuit against Whatsapp in the Berlin Regional Court.

When Whatsapp was bought by Facebook in 2014, the people were assured that the WhatsApp service would remain independent and that no information generated on Whatsapp would be shared with Facebook. Some of the gravely concerning points from the new Privacy Policy dictate that Whatsapp can share any phone number from your contact list, even those not on Whatsapp, with Facebook. Another clause says that Whatsapp can provide users with advertising materials from Facebook without the consent of the user. This new direction the app is taking is completely opposite to what the company was built on, and the assurances that were given to users when the acquisition happened.

A bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra, A. K. Sikri, Amitava Roy, A. M. Khanwilkar and M. M. Shantanagoudar will conduct the preliminary hearing in the case on May 15 2017.

Update: We reached out to Whatsapp for a comment on the matter and we were informed that the company “can’t comment on a matter that is subjudice.” However, they did clarify that “Your messages are encrypted by default, which means you’re the only people who can read them. Even as we coordinate more with Facebook in the months ahead, your encrypted messages stay private and no one else can read them. Not WhatsApp, not Facebook, nor anyone else. We won’t post or share your WhatsApp number with others, including on Facebook, and we still won’t sell, share, or give your phone number to advertisers.” Lastly, “Existing WhatsApp users can choose not to share your account information with Facebook to improve your Facebook ads and products experiences” said a WhatsApp spokesperson.