WhatsApp coverage: merchants’ physique strikes Supreme Courtroom

The traders’ body has also requested the Union of India to frame guidelines to govern big technology companies.

The Confederation of All India Traders on Saturday moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the government to stop online instant messaging platform, WhatsApp, from sharing user data with “any entity”, including Facebook or its other “family companies”, in furtherance of its new and controversial privacy policy.

“The Union of India has granted permission to run Whatsapp in India but has failed to play the role of a guardian to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, in as much as Whatsapp, which is rendering essential public services by enabling citizens to communicate. It has recently imposed unconstitutional privacy conditions, which are not only violative of the law but can impact the security of the country,” the Confederation, represented by advocate Vivek Narayan Sharma, said in its petition.

On January 4, WhatsApp introduced a privacy policy through which it scrapped users’ ‘opt-out policy’. The user would have to, according to the policy, compulsorily consent to share their data with Facebook and its group. 

It pointed out that high government officials like Ministers, Members of Parliament, judges, senior bureaucrats, defence personnel and crores of traders and well-known businessmen, etc, used WhatsApp for sharing confidential and personal information.


Action in Europe

 Where the Centre failed to restrict WhatsApp, the European Union’s Antitrust Authority had imposed serious restrictions and a fine of 110 million euros in 2017, the petition noted. 

“In 2016, Germany, the United Kingdom and the entire European Union prohibited a similar action of Facebook, which was also asked to delete all the data concerning the WhatsApp users,” it said.

As an interim prayer, the petition sought a rollback of the proposed privacy policy.

Besides the Centre, the PIL has made California-based WhatsApp Inc and Facebook Inc parties along with the Hyderabad-located Facebook India Online Services Pvt. Ltd.

The plea said the court should prod the government to step in and ensure that “application providers such as WhatsApp and other Internet based messaging services do not compromise, share and/or exploit information and data of users”.

It asked the court to direct the government to frame Rules under Section 87 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, to regulate the functioning of these platforms.

‘Technical audits’

The government should carry out “technical audits” of the data centres of these online platforms where the data of Indian users were stored. Such data, if found, should be retrieved and deleted.

“Technology giants who deal with such data must have a fiduciary duty to ensure that the information they so possess and collect from citizens and business must be safe and not used for their own commercial gains without the consent of the users,” it stated.

WhatsApp had grown exponentially for its assurances of complete privacy for users. It had two billion users worldwide and 400 million in India alone. However, it had been diluting its privacy policy ever since Facebook acquired it in 2014, it said. 

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