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.
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.
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.